Strengthen Privacy & Corporate Accountability

We defend and strengthen the inalienable, constitutional privacy rights guaranteed to all Californians. People, not corporations, must control how personal information is collected, shared, and used. Nobody should be forced to pay for products or services with their privacy rights.

We live digital lives – relying on technology to communicate, connect, access essential services, and mobilize for social change. But right now, every click and swipe costs us more than we get.

Corporate interests, led by Big Tech, have been allowed to build an enormous surveillance system that prioritizes profit over health, safety, equality and democracy. Companies compile detailed profiles about who we are, where we go, what we do, what we believe, and who we love. And then they use that personal information to enable discriminatory algorithms and enrich advertisers, creditors, and banks who buy people’s information on the open market. That surveillance system powers even greater racial and economic disparities and allows the government to capture people’s information for surveillance, targeting activists, immigrants, and communities of color. It has to stop.

Big Tech uses the same anti-democratic playbook as big tobacco and big oil: denying facts and hiding their harmful practices behind false promises and slick marketing. The costs of a “free” product built on a surveillance business model are paid by people and democracy. And tech companies use their massive profits to fund lobbying that props up and perpetuates their oppressive system.

Together, we can call out the surveillance lobby and demand bold laws that make technology work for the people, not against us.

California Privacy Rights

The ACLU in California helped spearhead the passage of our constitutional right to privacy in the 1970s, which was specifically passed to protect Californians against the modern threats to privacy related to information collection and potential misuse by both the government and companies. We work in coalition, in the legislature and in the courts to defend and strengthen privacy rights and ensure that people control how their personal information is collected, shared, and used.

We opposed Proposition 24 because it was full of loopholes that undermine consumer privacy and put the burden on people to protect themselves from powerful corporate interests intent on exploiting their personal information for profit. You can learn more here – No on Prop 24.

We also supported Privacy for All, a bill to give Californians strong privacy protections by requiring companies to ask for your permission before using or sharing your personal information and allowing people to take companies to court when their rights were violated.

We have worked to defend and promote California consumer privacy rights for decades. We developed and sponsored the 2013 California Right to Know Act to update California’s Shine the Light Law and provide Californians with real transparency about how personal information is collected and shared in the entire data ecosystem – with online advertisers, data brokers, and third-party services. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) used some of the foundational concepts from the Right to Know Act, but both the CCPA and Prop 24 fail to give Californian’s the robust protections that they deserve. Our Resources to Download page includes materials from over a decade of policy analysis, advocacy, and organizing.

Calling for and Defending Strong Privacy Regulations

The California Consumer Privacy Act gave authority to the office of the Attorney General to write the rules for privacy protections in California. Then Proposition 24 passed and the California Privacy Protection Agency took over responsibility for issuing privacy regulations. We are engaged with the Attorney General’s Office and the new agency to ensure that the law is interpreted to give people the most protection possible under the law.

At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission has sought comments how regulations should address the harms of commercial surveillance on consumers in California. The ACLU called for the FTC to issue regulations to address the commercial and government surveillance practices that disempower and harm consumers and to address the harms of automated decision-making systems.

Our work has also included amicus briefs supporting the constitutionality of privacy laws such as the Video Privacy Protection Act (Stark v. Patreon) and underscoring the importance of balancing immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act with robust enforcement of consumer protections (In Re Casino-Style Games) and civil rights laws (Liapes v. Facebook; Fair Housing Counsel of San Fernando Valley v.

Privacy & Free Speech: It’s Good for Business

Our Business Primer is the largest collection (more than 150 and counting) of real-life business case studies from throughout the years on why making decisions to protect and promote privacy and other digital rights is not just important for users, but critical for business too. The Business Primer outlines learnings on information collection, retention, use, and disclosure that should be implemented by companies of all sizes – from Big Tech to new startups.

Protecting Privacy Rights During COVID

Privacy is a human right, and that means protecting privacy in extraordinary situations. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, we mobilized to ensure that Californian’s privacy rights were protected as the state responded to a public-health emergency. We supported legislation to put strong privacy safeguards on contact-tracing applications, and highlighted privacy risks for diners associated with the pandemic-profusion of QR codes for viewing menus and ordering food.