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Online privacy bill fails to pass California Senate

The bill would have allowed parents to restrict their children's personal information and adults to restrict their own on social networking sites. Facebook, Twitter and others lobbied against the measure.

May 28, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), author of the proposal, saw it as a way to "protect Californians from identity theft and protect our children from predators."
State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), author of the proposal, saw it… (Associated Press )

Reporting from Sacramento -- A push by law enforcement and consumer groups to allow parents to restrict their children's personal information on social networking sites and limit disclosure about adults has stalled in the Legislature amid aggressive lobbying by Facebook, Google, Twitter and other firms.

The businesses oppose legislation that would require them to promptly remove adults' personal information from sites upon request and allow parents to edit their kids' web postings to exclude information such as home addresses and phone numbers.

The companies would face fines of up to $10,000 per violation under the measure, which failed to pass the state Senate on Friday.

The proposal could prove impossible to implement effectively, the firms argue, and would undermine free speech and growth in California's Internet industry, one of the few sectors of the state economy that is thriving.

The measure is supported by groups including the California State Sheriffs' Assn., Child Abuse Prevention Council and Consumer Watchdog. Some advocates contend that parents should have the legal authority to order websites to delete online information that puts their children at risk.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), author of the proposal, said parents and other constituents have clamored for such legislation amid concern that material posted on social network pages is easily available to predators.

"Let's tell the people of California that we can do something meaningful about protecting people's individual privacy, protect Californians from identity theft and protect our children from predators," Corbett said on the Senate floor.

But lawmakers deadlocked on the measure with a 16-16 vote.

"I think ultimately it needs some sort of national legislation," said state Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido), who voted no.

Corbett, who unsuccessfully promoted a similar measure last year, said she plans to bring her latest bill back for another vote next week. She said it has been "fiercely" lobbied against by opponents including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Skype, eHarmony and Match.com.

The companies have argued that the measure is unnecessary, poorly written and would violate the U.S. Constitution by improperly restricting interstate commerce and curbing free speech. Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, called the bill "a step in the wrong direction for California's growing Internet industry."

A letter sent to lawmakers by nine Internet firms said the proposed law could have international consequences.

"Social networking sites cannot reliably know if a visitor is a California resident," the letter said. "Therefore, every covered site in the world would need to change their practices in order to comply with California law."

The measure, SB 242, would require social networking sites to establish a default privacy setting for registered users that provides only the name and hometown of the customer for public viewing. Additional personal information could be posted only with the customer's agreement.

Restricted information would include home addresses, telephone numbers, driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, mothers' maiden names, bank account numbers and credit card numbers.

The bill would also require the sites to remove personal identifying information within 96 hours of a request by the user. And a site would have to remove personal information on users younger than 18 if a parent asks that it be taken down.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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