Sen. McGuire’s SB 593 Would Provide ‘Blank Search Warrant’ To Cities, Invading Privacy Of Consumers Using Home Sharing Websites, Says Consumer Watchdog

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SANTA MONICA, CA.  Consumer Watchdog today said it opposes a California Senate bill that requires home sharing platforms like Airbnb to turn over customers’ personal information to local governments, because it would violate consumers’ privacy and is little more than a “blank search warrant” for law enforcement authorities.

In Consumer Watchdog’s letter, Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president, and John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director, wrote the bill’s author, Sen. Mike McGuire:

“SB 593 requires Internet home sharing platforms like Airbnb to turn over unprecedented amounts of personally identifiable Internet user data to hundreds of local governments around the state.  This clearly would violate the privacy expectations of consumers who use these online communities. It is an unnecessary tool for local officials to accomplish their legitimate mission of enforcement."

“Should e-commerce sites be required to constantly turn over all purchase and sales data on each of its users to the government just so that enforcement officials can scour through records in search of potential violations of local laws?” asked Consumer Watchdog. “Such an approach amounts to a blank search warrant and, unfortunately, SB 593 opens the door to establishing such inappropriate government powers.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here:

“Users of home sharing platforms rightfully do not expect that Internet companies without sufficient legal justification, such as a warrant, will summarily turn over their online data to law enforcement officials,” Consumer Watchdog said. “This blunt approach to enforcement is a slippery slope.”

Consumer Watchdog compared SB 593’s requirements on home sharing platforms with the obligations of other businesses. The group noted that hotels are not compelled by state law to turn over to municipalities the guest register of every guest at every hotel, motel or inn and how much they paid.  Airlines are not required to turn over all their passenger information and the price they charged to fly to local airports. Amazon is not required to turn over to cities and counties all the goods and services it sold specific residents and the prices they charged, Consumer Watchdog said.

“It’s hard to think of a corporation ever being required to turn over massive amounts of personal identifiable information of citizens’ commercial transaction to a local government entity, or any government entity for that matter,” the letter said.  “Each request for a specific piece of personally identifiable data is typically seen through the lens of a specific instance where the right to privacy is carefully balanced against the right to safety and security for the public at large. Judicial officers typically need to issue warrants for such information because it is considered each citizen’s right to protect it.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter pointed out that the right to privacy in California is enshrined in Article I Section I of the California Constitution as an inalienable right.

“Individuals that give corporations private data for the purpose of commercial exchanges have a reasonable expectation of privacy, that it will not be turned over to government entities that demand it without a compelling state purpose – typically for public and health safety, or a terrorism threat,” the letter said. “SB 593 compels a private corporation to provide to any local government that asks for it private information citizens had a reasonable expectation would remain part of a private commercial transaction.”


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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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