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California’s Turn: California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 Enhances Privacy Protections and Control for Consumers

On Friday, June 29, 2018, California passed comprehensive privacy legislation, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018.  The legislation is some of the most progressive privacy legislation in the United States, with comparisons drawn to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which went into effect on May 25, 2018.  Karen Schuler, leader of BDO’s National Data and Information Governance and a former forensic investigator for the SEC, provides some insight into this legislation, how it compares to the EU’s GDPR, and how businesses can navigate the complexities of today’s privacy regulatory landscape.

California Consumer Privacy Act 2018

The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 was passed by both the California Senate and Assembly, and quickly signed into law by Governor Brown, hours before a deadline to withdraw a voter-led initiative that could potentially put into place even stricter privacy regulations for businesses.  This legislation will have a tremendous impact on the privacy landscape in the United States and beyond, as the legislation provides consumers with much more control of their information, as well as an expanded definition of personal information and the ability of consumers to control whether companies sell or share their data.  This law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. You can read more about the California Privacy Act of 2018 here.

California Privacy Legislation v. GDPR

In many ways, the California law has some similarities to GDPR, however, there are notable differences, and ways that the California legislation goes even further.  

Karen Schuler, leader of BDO’s National Data & Information Governance practice and former forensic investigator for the SEC, points out:

“the theme that resonates throughout both GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act is to limit or prevent harm to its residents. . . both seem to be keenly focused on lawful processing of data, as well as knowing where your personal information goes and ensuring that companies protect data accordingly.”

One way California goes a bit further is in the ability of consumers to prevent a company from selling or otherwise sharing consumer information.  Schuler says, “California has proposed that if a consumer chooses not to have their information sold, then the company must respect that.” While GDPR was data protections for consumers, and allows consumers rights as far as modifying, deleting and accessing their information, there is no precedent where GDPR can stop a company from selling consumer data if the company has a legal basis to do so.  

In terms of a compliance burden, Schuler hypothesizes that companies who are in good shape as far as GDPR goes might have a bit of a head start in terms of compliance with the California legislation, however, there is still a lot of work to do before the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.  Schuler says, “There are also different descriptions of personal data between regulations like HIPAA, PCI, GDPR and others that may require – under this law – companies to look at their categorizations of data. For some organizations this is an extremely large undertaking.”

Compliance with Privacy Regulations: No Short-Cuts

With these stricter regulations coming into play, companies are in a place where understanding data flows is of primary importance. In many ways, GDPR compliance was a wake-up call to the complexities of data privacy issues in companies.  Schuler says, “Ultimately, we have found that companies are making good strides against becoming GDPR compliant, but that they may have waited too long and underestimated the level of effort it takes to institute a strong privacy or GDPR governance program.”  When talking about how companies institute compliance to whatever regulation they are trying to understand and implement, Schuler says, “It is critical companies understand where data exists, who stores it, who has access to it, how its categorized and protected.” Additionally, across industries companies are moving to a culture of mindfulness around privacy and data security issues, a lengthy process that can require a lot of training and requires buy-in from all levels of the company.

While the United States still has a patchwork of privacy regulations, including breach notification statutes, this California legislation could be a game-changer.  What is clear is that companies will need to contend with privacy legislation and consumer protections. Understanding the data flows in an organization is crucial to compliance, and it turns out GDPR may have just been the beginning.

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About this Author

Eilene Spear legal news editor and writer at the National Law Review
Operations Project Manager & Lead Writer

Eilene Spear is the Operations and Projects Manager for the National Law Review.  She edits and formats author profiles, legal news content and legal event listings from prominent law firms who publish on the NLR website.

As Lead Writer, Eilene writes extensively on a variety of legal topics; including legal marketing topics, interviews with top legal marketing professionals and the newest trends in legal marketing.  Additionally, Eilene writes on issues affecting the legal industry, such as women attorneys and the challenges they face, along...

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