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Newsletter: CEOs support a federal privacy law, but for all the wrong reasons

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Fifty-one CEOs belonging to the Business Roundtable called for passage of a federal privacy law. They’re more interested in preempting California’s tough new rules.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section. I’m consumer columnist David Lazarus, here today with a call from business leaders for a federal privacy law.

That’s a good thing, right? Maybe not.

Fifty-one chief executives belonging to the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, sent a letter to congressional leaders last week seeking passage of “a comprehensive consumer data privacy law” to provide “strong, consistent protections for American consumers.”

“We are committed to protecting consumer privacy and want consumers to have confidence that companies treat their personal information responsibly,” they wrote.

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At first glance, that’s a laudable sentiment. A closer reading of the letter reveals a more self-serving goal.

The CEOs repeatedly cite the need for a “comprehensive” federal law that will spare consumers from the “confusion” of different privacy laws in different states.

“Now is the time for Congress to act and ensure that consumers are not faced with confusion about their rights and protections based on a patchwork of inconsistent state laws,” they wrote.

What’s really happening here is a full-court press by the business community to head off a strict California privacy law slated to take effect in January.

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The California Consumer Privacy Act will allow state residents to find out what kinds of information a business has collected. It also permits consumers to request that a company delete any personal information it holds, and to opt out of the sale of such info.

Moreover, the law explicitly grants consumers the right to sue if reasonable security practices aren’t maintained by a company to prevent data breaches.

As I’ve reported, businesses have been lobbying aggressively for months to get a weaker federal law passed that would preempt the tougher provisions of California’s statute, as well as those of any other states that follow our example.

“We urgently need a comprehensive federal consumer data privacy law to strengthen consumer trust and establish a stable policy environment in which new services and technologies can flourish within a well-understood legal and regulatory framework,” the CEOs wrote.

Translation: We want privacy rules, but not California’s, and not anything that we can’t water down at the national level through congressional lobbying.

The Business Roundtable is the same organization that recently declared its support for customers and workers, not just shareholders — a declaration that propaganda experts instantly recognized as, well, propaganda.

If CEOs, as they say, are truly “committed to protecting consumer privacy” and “want consumers to have confidence that companies treat their personal information responsibly,” they’ll act accordingly.

They’ll support a federal privacy law — yes, we need one. And they’ll accept that if individual states want to up their privacy game, those states shouldn’t be prevented from doing so. In other words, no federal preemption of tougher state rules.

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Because let’s be honest: If a company is doing all it can to safeguard people’s privacy, and is taking all reasonable steps to keep data under wraps, it has nothing to worry about.

That’s all the California law requires. And it’s not too much to ask for.

Now then, here are some upcoming events and recent stories that caught my eye:

STORY LINES

Gig’s up: State legislators have redefined the rules of employment for thousands of Californians, potentially bringing new job benefits and pay guarantees to many who have joined the so-called gig economy. Assembly Bill 5, which limits businesses’ ability to use independent contractors, now awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom. We’ll be watching the final steps — and what comes next.

Being Big Brother: Cameras that can read license plates have long been the tools of law enforcement, but now they might belong to your neighbor. The start-up Flock Safety sells its plate-reading gadgets to ordinary consumers, raising questions about privacy, policing, and whether anyone should have the ability to track all vehicles that pass through their neighborhood.

The power of negative thinking: Negative interest rates sound too good to be true. Wouldn’t it be great to take out a loan and pay back less than you borrowed? Such arrangements have cropped up elsewhere in the world, but they’re not likely to come to the U.S. — even though President Trump has called for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates “to zero, or less.”

WHAT WE’RE READING

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Vice’s next turn: With its HBO show coming to an end, what’s next for the edgy media empire Vice? According to New York Magazine, it might be a hunt for a buyer.

Going to the mattresses: A heap of companies are now selling mattresses in a box, and the competition is fierce. The New York Times goes deep on Casper, which aspires to be “the Nike of sleep.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Cuts coming?: On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to announce a quarter point cut to interest rates. The real tension hinges on whether the Fed will offer hints about what’s coming next.

Let me know what you think of the newsletter. My email is david.lazarus@latimes.com, or you can find me on Twitter @Davidlaz. Also, tell all your social media pals to join the party.

Until next time, see you in the Business section.


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