All Initiatives

A.G. File No. 2017-039

December 1, 2017


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Pursuant to Elections Code Section 9005, we have reviewed the proposed statutory initiative (A.G. File No. 17-0039, Amendment #1) relating to consumer privacy.


Commercial Uses of Personal Information. Many businesses maintain a wide array of personal information on consumers, including their contact information, demographic background, financial activity, Internet history, physical characteristics (biometric data), and location. Businesses involved in the commercial use of consumer information—particularly data brokers—aggregate consumer data from multiple sources and then use the data for their own internal purposes and/or sell or share the information with other businesses. While the commercial use of personal information is the primary purpose of some businesses (such as data brokers), other businesses (such as retailers) engage in it as a secondary activity. For example, retailers will often use the personal information they collect to improve their marketing efforts and, in some cases, sell such information to third party businesses to use for their marketing efforts. Some businesses are heavily reliant on the collection and commercial use of consumer information to generate revenue, such as Internet companies that do not charge users for their services or data brokers that are focused on selling information to third parties.

Data Breaches. In a data breach, unauthorized individuals gain access to or control of data, such as personal information. Data breaches are generally carried out by criminals who seek to profit from the information—such as by using it in identity theft schemes. Between 2012 and 2016, the California Attorney General received reports of 657 data breaches affecting over 49 million records in California. Most data breaches in California occurred in the retail, financial, and healthcare sectors of the economy.

State Privacy Laws. The State Constitution guarantees individuals the right to privacy. State law also includes various other provisions related to privacy and personal information:

  • Definition of Personal Information. State law defines personal information to include (1) first and last name, (2) social security number, (3) home or physical address, and (4) any other identifier that permits physical or online contacting of a specific individual.
  • Information Sharing Limitations. State law limits the types of personal information private entities can share with others. For example, state law requires banks to obtain a customer’s permission before sharing their financial information.
  • Privacy Policy Requirements. State law requires Internet companies that collect personal information to clearly state their privacy policies on their websites, including a description of what information is collected and the types of entities with whom those companies share personal information.
  • Information Disclosure Requirements. State law requires businesses that collect and share personal information about consumers for marketing purposes disclose—upon a consumer’s request—the categories of personal information generally collected and shared and whom it is shared with.
  • Data Security Requirements. State law requires that a business that possesses consumer information take “reasonable security procedures and practices” to safeguard that information from data breaches. The business must also require third parties that it shares personal information with to implement similar safeguards. In addition, the business must notify individuals if a data breach affects information about them.

Enforcement of Privacy Laws. The California Attorney General can enforce privacy laws by prosecuting crimes (such as identity theft and criminal invasion of privacy) and by bringing civil lawsuits against entities that violate privacy laws. In addition, individuals can bring their own lawsuits against private entities that unlawfully share their information or negligently fail to protect it from unintended breaches. In such cases, individuals must prove that they suffered harm (such as financial loss) as a result of the privacy violation.


This measure places various requirements on businesses that collect or sell personal information. Specifically, the measure applies to those businesses that: (1) have annual gross revenues of $50 million or more, (2) derive at least 50 percent of their revenues from selling personal information, or (3) sell the personal information of 100,000 or more consumers or devices annually. The measure uses an expanded definition of personal information to include various other categories such as (1) biometric data, (2) internet activity, (3) geolocation data, and (4) inferences drawn about consumers from such data. The measure specifies, however, that information that is publically available or that cannot reasonably identify or be associated with a particular consumer or device would not qualify as personal information.

Requires Greater Disclosure of Use of Personal Information. This measure generally requires that all covered businesses, whether or not they are an Internet company, notify consumers if they collect or share personal information, as well as the categories of information collected or shared in the past 12 months. In addition, if requested by a consumer, businesses must provide the above information as it pertains specifically to that consumer and identify all third parties to whom they have provided such information for any purpose in the past 12 months. The measure prohibits any business from charging consumers who request the disclosure of such information different prices for the same service, or providing them with different levels of service.

Allows Consumers Not to Have Personal Information Sold. The measure generally allows consumers to “opt out” from allowing covered businesses to sell their personal information. Specifically, businesses would be required to notify consumers of their ability to opt out on their websites and provide customers with a way to opt out. The measure prohibits businesses from charging consumers who choose to opt out different prices for the same service, or providing them with different levels of service.

Establishes Liability for Data Breaches. The measure states that covered businesses would be subject to civil penalties (described below) if they experience a data breach involving consumers’ personal information due to their failure to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices.

Establishes Process to Enforce the Measure. Under this measure, consumers who have suffered a violation (such as having their information sold despite opting out or being the victim of a data breach) would be able to bring legal action against the involved business for statutory damages. Consumers would not have to prove that they suffered harm as a result of the violation to be awarded damages. The measure assigns statutory damages as the greater of $1,000 or actual damages for each violation by a business. In the case of knowing or willful violations, statutory damages would be between $1,000 and $3,000 or actual damages, whichever is greater.

Businesses that violate this measure would also be subject to civil action brought by the California Attorney General or local prosecutors (such as county district attorneys). The measure assigns civil penalties of up to $7,500 per violation for intentional violations. In addition, any “whistleblower” with non-public information that a business has violated the measure may request that the Attorney General file a civil action. If the Attorney General declines to do so, the whistleblower may file suit in place of the Attorney General.

Creates the Consumer Privacy Fund. Of the funding collected in civil penalties or settlements from civil actions brought by the Attorney General or local prosecutors, 20 percent would be deposited in a new state fund, the Consumer Privacy Fund (CPF). The remaining 80 percent would go to the jurisdiction the action was brought on behalf of, such as the state or county, which could be used to offset the jurisdiction’s costs. If the civil penalties or settlements resulted from civil actions involving a whistleblower, a higher percentage of the funding collected would be deposited in the CPF, depending on the circumstances. Monies in the fund would be used to offset costs incurred by the state courts and the California Attorney General related to the measure. The Legislature could adjust the above percentages to help ensure state costs related to the measure are offset.

Requires California Attorney General to Adopt Regulations. The measure requires the California Attorney General to develop various implementation regulations, such as regulations governing how businesses must allow consumers to opt out. The Attorney General could also adopt other regulations—such as expanding the categories of personal information subject to the measure.

Fiscal Effects

State and Local Enforcement and Implementation Costs. To the extent this measure leads to more or lengthier civil actions against businesses, there would be additional workload for state courts. In addition, the California Attorney General’s office and local governments would experience increased workload to the extent they brought civil actions related to the measure’s provisions. The Attorney General would also have increased workload to develop the required implementation regulations. The costs of the above workload would depend on the number and type of cases filed, but could reach the low tens of millions of dollars annually. Some or all of these costs would be offset by increased revenue resulting from the new civil penalties authorized by the measure or proceeds from settlements in civil actions for violation of the measure.

Potential Tax Revenue Impacts. The measure would have various impacts on economic activity in California because it would impose new requirements on affected businesses operating in California. In particular, these requirements to improve the privacy of consumer information would both raise the costs and reduce revenues of those businesses. The magnitude of the potential impacts on the economy and state and local tax revenue is unknown and would depend on how the state and local governments, businesses, and the public responded to the measure.

Summary of Fiscal Effects. This measure would have the following fiscal effects:

  • Increased costs, potentially reaching the low tens of millions of dollars annually, to state and local governments from implementing and enforcing the measure, some or all of which would be offset by increased penalty revenue or settlement proceeds authorized by the measure.
  • Unknown impact on state and local tax revenues due to economic effects resulting from new requirements on businesses to protect consumer information.