The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is once again insisting that any COVID-19 public health initiatives still need to be developed with respect for the privacy of American citizens. This time, the watchdog’s comments are specifically directed at the state of California, which hosts many leading technology companies and is generally regarded as a leader on privacy issues.
With that in mind, the EFF is asking Governor Gavin Newsom to consider passing new legislation to strengthen the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and minimize the amount of information that companies can collect when people sign up for their various services. While the CCPA allows consumers to delete their information or opt out of data sales, there are still several loopholes that allow large organizations to sell and share data with third parties.
The state’s proposed AB 3119 bill would place limits on what organizations can do with people’s personal information. The broader goal is to make it so that businesses can only collect and store the personal information they need to deliver services to their customers, although the California Privacy and Consumer Protection committee has thus far refused to consider the bill and has already indicated that it will not do so in 2020.
The EFF argues that that legislation is particularly important in the wake of COVID-19, when public and private institutions are considering contact tracing programs to slow the spread of the virus. It also insists that privacy is not incompatible with public health, and that organizations should not be allowed to take advantage of a crisis to encroach on civil liberties. Instead, organizations should only have access to the information they need to implement a contact tracing program, while facial recognition programs should be rejected entirely.
In that regard, the EFF notes that the current lack of trust is already making many tracking schemes less effective. The organization cites a Washington Post and University of Maryland poll that found that roughly half of all Americans would refuse to download a coronavirus tracking app due solely to their mistrust of large tech companies like Apple and Google.
Legislation like an updated CCPA would give consumers more control over their data, and could potentially restore some of that trust in the industry.