Voters to Wield Power Over Their Privacy This November

A San Francisco ballot measure would define privacy rights in the aftermath of the Facebook data scandal and prevent contracts with companies that don't comply.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a charter amendment to protect personal information (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

After years without control or transparency over how personal information is stored, San Francisco voters will have the chance in November to set a policy.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday sent the charter amendment to the November ballot that would outline a ‘Privacy First Policy’ for the city, its contractors, and its permit holders, to adhere to. Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced it in May and said it would be the first of its kind.

Peskin said it was “the first time a city has endeavored to protect its constituents from the misuse and misappropriation of their personal, private information by outside corporations for profit,” the Examiner reported.

A set of 11 principles make up the policy that, in essence, gives San Franciscans and guests control over how their personal information is stored, collected, and shared. They will be able to access collected information about themselves, give informed consent first, be given “alternate and equal” access the company’s goods if they deny or revoke consent and not have their whereabouts tracked in a way that violates that permission.

It has companies anticipate and mitigate ways personal information can be incorrect or cause bias, keep that information for “only as long as necessary” and protect it from misuse. Companies are also discouraged from collecting information unless it’s for a specific, lawful and authorized purpose. 

The policy makes a point to define personal information as information that “identifies, relates to, describes, or is capable of being associated with, a particular individual.” This can mean anything from social security numbers, IP addresses, employment history or education.

Voter approval wouldn’t immediately kick the policy into place but establishes guidance for City Hall. By May 29, 2019, the city administrator must propose an ordinance with the rules and criteria for the Board of Supervisors and submit a report every three years to update it.

From restaurant bill-splitting apps to a hardware store rewards program, a lot of entities have reason to ask for our personal information. But the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed 87 million Facebook users had data mined to sway the 2016 election, reminded us the extent to which it can be used. 

Consider this ballot measure San Francisco’s response to the scandal.

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