Update on California Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242)

Published On May 31, 2011 | By ZwillGen | Privacy
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On Friday, the recently proposed and highly contested California Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242) stalled in the state Senate with a 16-16 vote, which is five votes short of the majority needed to pass.  As mentioned in our post last Tuesday, the bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett sought to (1) force sites to impose a default privacy setting that prohibits the public display of any information other than a user’s name and city of residence; (2) require sites to create a process for users to select their privacy settings as part of the registration process and prohibit registration until a user chooses their settings; (3) mandate that sites honor users’ requests (or the request of the user’s parent if the user is under 18) to delete their personal information within 48 hours; and (4) impose a severe civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Corbett slightly amended the bill prior to introducing it on May 26, 2011, increasing the amount of time sites would have to respond to a takedown request from 48 hours to 96 hours and removing “place of employment and “photographs and videos” from the definition of “personal identifying information” that parents can require a site to remove.

However, these minor changes failed to address the major concerns raised by a coalition of California-based Internet companies, in their May 16 letter to Senator Corbett.  In this letter, the Internet companies encouraged legislators to vote no to the proposed bill, arguing that (1) SB 242 would decrease overall consumer privacy by requiring broad privacy settings that apply to all user information rather than customized settings tailored to the network; (2) SB 242 is unnecessary because user requests for the removal of private information have been rare and social networks will generally remove personal information upon receiving such a request; (3) SB 242 would do significant damage to the California technology sector by imposing a difficult or potentially impossible burden upon social networking sites; and (4) SB 242 would interfere with the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions.  It appears that Republican senators agreed with the fiscal concerns of these companies, as the senators cited the potentially detrimental effect on the Internet industry in their opposition to the bill.

Corbett has indicated that she is committed to reintroducing the bill.  However, Friday, June 3, is the last available day to pass a bill in the Senate.  With such a short deadline, it may be difficult to garner the additional support needed in time to pass this legislation.

Update:  SB 242 was read a third time on Thursday June 2, 2011 and failed to pass the Senate.  The bill received a vote of 19-17, with four senators abstaining.