California Privacy Advocates Seek Court's Help With Ballot Initiative

Advocates behind a new privacy initiative in California have gone to court in an attempt to secure a spot on the ballot this November.

The proposed California Privacy Rights Act will only be eligible to appear on the November ballot if 623,212 California residents signed petitions for the initiative.

Californians for Consumer Privacy, a group spearheaded by entrepreneur Alastair Mactaggart, recently submitted petitions for the initiative with more than 930,000 signatures to county registrar of voters' offices. But the counties must still determine the validity of the signatures -- a process that involves random sampling.

In a petition filed Monday in Sacramento Superior Court, Mactaggart and the other advocates are seeking a court order requiring California's Secretary of State to direct county officials to complete the sampling process by June 25 -- the deadline for this year's ballot.

They argue that Secretary of State Alex Padilla could have directed county officials to begin random sampling on May 13 -- in which case the counties would have been required to complete the process by June 25. Instead, Padilla allegedly waited until May 14, which resulted in a June 26 deadline -- one day too late for the measure to appeal on this year's ballot.

The reason for the delay, according to the petition, is that Riverside County didn't report the signatures to Padilla's office until 5:27 p.m. on May 13 -- 27 minutes after the close of business.

“That one-day delay, for which the Secretary of State's office had no authority, may prove fatal to the people's right to vote on this initiative,” the petition states.

Mactaggart and the others say Padilla's office notified counties to begin random sampling processes on at least three other occasions this year after 5 p.m.

The California Privacy Rights Act aims to strengthen the already broad California Consumer Privacy Act in several respects. Among others, the new proposal would make it more difficult for companies to draw on some types of data -- including information about race, ethnicity, health and finances -- for ad purposes. The measure also includes provisions aimed at preventing state lawmakers from watering down the law in the future.

The current California Consumer Privacy Act, which took effect this year, gives consumers the right to learn what personal information about them is held by businesses, request deletion of that information, and opt out of its sale. 

Mactaggart says in the new petition that since the California Consumer Privacy Act was enacted, state lawmakers have considered watering down the measure.

“If approved by the voters, the initiative would strengthen existing privacy rights and protect them from being undermined in the future,” the new petition says.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored both the value and utility of personal information, and the risk that the misuse of such information could pose to consumers,” the advocates add. “The initiative addresses these concerns by expanding the right of consumers to limit the use of their sensitive personal information, including health data and precise geolocation.”

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