A Wealthy Californian Named Alastair Mactaggart Brought The American Tech Indust A law gives Californians sweeping new data privacy rights and could reverberate nationwide — all because a rich Bay Area real estate developer leveraged the state's ballot initiative process.
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California Passes Strict Internet Privacy Law With Implications For The Country

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California Passes Strict Internet Privacy Law With Implications For The Country

California Passes Strict Internet Privacy Law With Implications For The Country

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, here in California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law yesterday giving Californians sweeping, new data privacy rights. This could reverberate nationwide. And it's all because of a single voter who leveraged this state's ballot initiative process. Here's Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Alastair Mactaggart started worrying about data privacy after talking with a Google engineer.

ALASTAIR MACTAGGART: These giant corporations know absolutely everything about you, and you have no rights. And I thought, oh, I'd like to find out about what these companies know about me. Then I thought, well, you know, someone should do something about that. And then one of these days, I'm like, maybe I'm someone.

ADLER: Mactaggart is no billionaire like George Soros or the Koch brothers, but he did earn a fortune in Bay Area real estate. So he spent nearly 3 1/2 million dollars to place an initiative on California's November ballot, then negotiated a deal with the legislature instead.

CHRISTIN MCMELEY: This is a really big deal.

ADLER: Christin McMeley is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represents cable industry clients on privacy and information security matters. She says California's new law is similar, though not identical to newly enacted European Union standards.

MCMELEY: It will absolutely change the way that companies do business in the state of California, if not the United States.

ADLER: Starting in 2020, Californians will have the right to learn what companies like Facebook and Google know about them and stop the sharing or selling of their data. And they can sue over data breaches if companies fail to adequately protect their data. McMeley says the law won't only affect Internet companies.

MCMELEY: This is much broader than online. It is all information.

ADLER: The tech industry scorned the measure as unworkable. Google, Facebook, AT&T and Comcast joined the opposition campaign, along with the California Chamber of Commerce. And word surfaced that opponents would spend a hundred million dollars. But behind the scenes, that money never materialized.

EVAN LOW: It's important to recognize that tech is not monolithic.

ADLER: Democrat Evan Low represents Silicon Valley in the California Assembly. He says some companies were spoiling for a fight. Others wanted a compromise. And still others figured it wasn't their battle. So when Mactaggart and lawmakers gave the industry an ultimatum - either take the legislative deal or take their chances with an unpopular and expensive campaign, the industry blinked.

LOW: I think it's a wake-up call for the tech community to recognize that we need to be engaged and proactive in being part of the solution.

ADLER: Yesterday, facing a deadline for initiative proponents to withdraw their measures from the ballot, lawmakers rushed the deal through both houses. The bill's author promised to address concerns from business and consumer groups before it takes effect. At a news conference after Governor Brown signed the bill, Mactaggart called it a great stride forward.

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MACTAGGART: Because it's going to happen to the rest of the country. If it happened here, it will happen to the rest of the country.

ADLER: And with that, he pulled his initiative off California's November ballot, his 3 1/2 million dollars having conquered a trillion-dollar Goliath. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "SLACK")

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