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California state Senate OKs social network, drug bills

A measure sent on to the Assembly would make sites such as Facebook remove information about minors when parents request it. Another would allow hard drug possession to be treated as a misdemeanor.

May 02, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • Facebook, Google and other Internet firms had argued that rules in a bill passed by the California Senate were unnecessary, unworkable and in violation of teenagers’ free-speech rights.
Facebook, Google and other Internet firms had argued that rules in a bill… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — Social network sites such as Facebook would be required to remove personal information about minors when asked to do so by their parents under a measure approved by state senators Thursday.

Separately, the lawmakers voted to allow misdemeanor rather than felony charges in cases of simple possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs.

The two bills were among several sent to the Assembly for consideration.

The Internet measure was approved despite opposition from firms including Google, Facebook, Zynga and Tumblr, which called the proposed rules unnecessary, unworkable and in violation of teenagers' free-speech rights.

It would require social network sites to remove personal information about adults as well. The author, Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), says her bill is a public safety imperative.

"This bill is designed to protect individuals, including minors, from criminal acts, including identity theft, stalking, kidnapping and assault," Corbett told fellow lawmakers on the Senate floor. She noted that it had strong support from law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

The measure would subject Internet firms to fines of $10,000 per offense if they failed to meet demands to remove information including addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and other information within four days.

The vote was 23 to 10, with most opposition coming from Republicans.

Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) cited complaints from the Internet firms that the bill's requirements are unreasonable because of the difficulty of verifying that a parent's request is legitimate, finding the right minor posting the information and establishing that the child lives in California.

"You still run the risk of losing 10 grand, even with your best effort," Anderson said.

A coalition that includes Facebook and Google sent a letter to legislators opposing the bill, SB 501. The measure "upsets teenage consumers' expectation of privacy and 1st Amendment rights by allowing others to regulate their expression and content," the letter said.

Thursday was not a total loss for the Internet firms. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said she was delaying action for a year on a measure opposed by the companies that would have given consumers access to information being collected about them online.

Under a separate bill the Senate approved Thursday, prosecutors would gain the power to charge possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said other states had similar laws. "In these 13 other states, we can document that there is higher participation in drug treatment. As a result, there is lower drug use," Leno said. "As a result, there is less violent and property crime in these 13 other states."

The bill, which covers possession of hard drugs for personal use, could save the state and counties up to $163 million in incarceration costs, Leno said. The money could be better spent providing more drug users with rehabilitation and education programs, he added.

Opponents included Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), who said county jails were already full, so drug users know that a misdemeanor conviction is likely to result in little or no time behind bars.

"They know they don't have to go to treatment. They can walk away and there is no consequence," Nielsen said. "This particular bill will reward that continued criminality."

Law enforcement groups such as the California State Sheriffs Assn., California Police Chiefs Assn. and California District Attorneys Assn. also fought the measure, SB 649, calling it a threat to public safety.

"Minimizing the consequences for addictive and destructive behavior does not make it less addictive and destructive," said W. Scott Thorpe, chief executive of the district attorneys group, noting in an interview that many drug addicts become involved in theft and violence.

The vote was 23 to 14, with Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla of Pacoima, Lou Correa of Santa Ana and Richard Roth of Riverside joining Republicans in voting against the measure.

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