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October 14, 2003

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SACRAMENTO - Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Privacy, announced today that Governor Davis signed Simitian’s bill (Assembly Bill 68) to protect the privacy of online users.

“My goal here is simple,” said Simitian. “Make sure online users know what their privacy protections are, and make sure those guarantees are honored.”

AB 68, the Online Privacy and Disclosure Act of 2003, requires all commercial entities that collect personal information online to conspicuously post a privacy policy, and explicitly makes it unlawful for an online entity to violate its posted privacy policy.

“Although most legitimate online businesses post privacy policies on their Web sites, not all do. Also, the law isn’t clear on what recourse individuals may have, if any, if somebody chooses not to honor their posted privacy commitments,” said Simitian. “Right now, the only sure method of recourse is to literally make a federal case of the matter. This bill provides for meaningful and accessible enforcement under California Law.”

“California is making a statement that Internet companies need to be up-front with consumers about their privacy policies and then honor their commitments,” said Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Simitian expressed frustration that even after significant amendments the bill received considerable opposition from online businesses, including AOL (America On Line), “who made stopping AB 68 their number one priority,” according to Simitian. Simitian believes that “enlightened self interest” should actually make online entities like AOL supporters of the bill.

“The privacy protections in AB 68 are designed to foster the continued growth of the Internet economy,” explains Simitian, who was named High Tech Legislator of the Year by the AeA (American Electronics Association) in 2001. “Many consumers refuse to do business online because of concerns about the confidentiality of their personal financial information,” Simitian noted.

“This bill provides protection by allowing individuals to rely on a company’s posted policy, and should provide consumers with greater comfort about doing business online. Moreover,” said Simitian, “AB 68 rewards the vast majority of online enterprises who are doing the right thing; it requires the bad actors to start doing the right thing. For responsible companies, AB 68 helps level the playing field.”

AB 68 becomes effective on July 1, 2004.  The measure is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.  Governor Davis vetoed a similar measure by Simitian last year, but Simitian came back this year with AB 68, which was specifically redrafted to address the Governor’s concerns.

As a Silicon Valley legislator, and Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Privacy, Simitian has taken a particular interest in the complex challenges associated with online privacy issues.

Legislation authored by Simitian last year (AB 700) requires businesses and government agencies to promptly notify customers if their personal information has been stolen from computer databases. The law became effective on July 1st of this year, and has prompted U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to propose federal legislation imposing the same requirement on a national basis. 

Currently pending in the Legislature is Simitian’s AB 1143, which is designed to protect California Internet users’ privacy and promote free speech.  AB 1143 requires that before an online user’s privacy can be compromised by use of a civil subpoena, the user must be notified and given an opportunity to object.  The measure has passed the State Assembly, and Simitian hopes to secure Senate approval early next year.