Consumer data bills face business opposition

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 11, 2014 at 3:30 pm •  Published: May 11, 2014
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are trying to strengthen consumer data protections as businesses profit from the trove of details they collect and criminals become ever more sophisticated in trying to steal it.

Bills introduced this session seek to guard the information generated when Californians swipe credit cards at stores, drive vehicles and attend schools. The most notable initiatives have been gutted and defeated in the face of fierce opposition from powerful business groups.

"We are winning small, bite-size kinds of fights," said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. "But when it's about the core profit motive of high tech companies, wins will only really occur when there's a voter revolt."

The sometimes nebulous world of consumer data hit home last holiday season for tens of millions of Target and Neiman Marcus customers whose phone numbers, addresses and credit card numbers were breached. That sent customers scrambling to reset credit cards and automatic payments and to monitor their credit scores.

"Everybody wants to go to the store and buy things instantaneously, so you don't want to crush that advancement in tech," said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who held a hearing in February on how to respond to data breaches. "On the other hand, we've got to take a step back from this wild, wild West."

Wieckowski and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, introduced AB1710 in response to the data breaches. It would have set new standards and restrictions on retailers that keep customer data and held those who do not comply liable for the costs of a breach. But those provisions have been gutted after business groups warned against enshrining constantly evolving technology standards into law.

"Data breaches are now a fact of life, and retailers are not the only one facing them," said Bill Dombrowski, executive director of the California Retailers Association.

The state attorney general's office reports that 300 separate data breaches during the past two years exposed the personal information for more than 20 million Californians. More than 7 million Californians were affected by the Target breach alone.