Internet privacy measure opposed by Facebook, Twitter and others stalls in state Senate

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A proposal pushed by law enforcement and consumer groups to require strict new privacy protections on social networking sites stalled in the state Legislature on Friday amid fierce opposition from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other firms.

The Senate deadlocked 16-16 over a measure that would require social networking firms to remove personal information from sites when requested and to allow parents to edit their kids’ Web postings to exclude information, including home addresses and phone numbers.


Companies would face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) said parents and other constituents have clamored for the legislation because of concern about how personal information posted on social network pages can be misused by criminals.

‘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 asked her colleagues.

But the Senate failed to pass the measure, with some Democrats abstaining and Republican lawmakers voting in opposition in part because of concern that setting the rule in California could affect company operations and Internet use throughout the country.

‘I think ultimately it needs some sort of national legislation,’ said Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido).

Corbett said she plans to bring her bill back for another vote in the Senate next week, before a June 3 deadline for action, and hopes to convince her colleagues of the need for privacy protections.

Last year, a similar bill by Corbett did not make it out of an Assembly committee. And she said this year’s bill has been lobbied against ‘fiercely’ by opponents, which include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Skype and eHarmony and

The companies argued that the state measure violates the U.S. Constitution by improperly restricting interstate commerce and curbing free speech. It is poorly written and difficult to comply with, they argued.

‘Lawmakers rejected Senator Ellen Corbett’s bill today because it was a step in the wrong direction for California’s growing Internet industry at a time when the state’s economy can least afford it,’ said Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook. ‘Senator Corbett is arguing for unnecessary regulations that ignore the extraordinary lengths that companies like ours go to in order to protect individuals’ privacy and give them the tools to determine for themselves how much information they wish to share online.’

The measure is supported by groups including the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., Child Abuse Prevention Council and Consumer Watchdog.

The child advocacy group Common Sense Media argued parents should be able to delete online information that puts their kids at risk.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter provide users with a place to share personal information with family and friends, but the information is vulnerable to misuse by strangers, some lawmakers said.

‘As with any new and enormous phenomenon it has its darker side as well,’ said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), a supporter of SB 242.

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

Restricted information includes home addresses, telephone numbers, drivers license numbers, social security numbers, mother’s maiden names, bank account numbers and credit card numbers.

It also requires the sites to remove personal identifying information within 96 hours of being requested by the user.

And for network users under 18, the website would be required to remove personal information if a parent requests the removal.

Putting the home phone and address of a 13-year-old on the Internet could put that child in jeopardy, Corbett said. ‘A person can find that young person and have inappropriate contact with them,’ she said.


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-- Patrick McGreevy