The California legislature worked through the summer to finalize the text of the state’s landmark data privacy law before time to make amendments ran out on Friday. In the Assembly (California’s lower house), Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin has been a key voice and vote backing motions that would weaken the law, and a new report says her reasoning may be very, very close to home.
A review of state ethics documents conducted by Politico found that Ms. Irwin is married to Jon Irwin, the chief operating officer of Amazon’s controversial Ring home surveillance business. That company stands to benefit if the California law is weakened in certain key ways before it can take effect.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Consumer Privacy Act into law in June 2018. This legislation gives California residents several protections with regard to their personal information, including the rights to know what is being collected, what is being sold, and to whom it is being sold. It also grants Californians the right to access their personal information, the right to delete data collected from them, and the right to opt out—without being charged extra for services if they choose to do so.
The provisions in the CCPA become effective as of January 1, 2020, a little more than three months from now. There was a window in 2019 where the state legislature could still alter the text of the law, and so a flurry of proposed amendments hit the Assembly and the state Senate before last week’s deadline.
One proposal put forth by Assemblywoman Irwin would expand what kind of data would be exempt from CCPA provisions, and this drew the ire of consumer protection groups, Politico reports. Irwin also initially proposed striking out “a provision requiring companies to disclose or delete data associated with ‘households’ upon request,” a regulation that will likely affect companies like Ring. She also voted against an amendment that would have required smart speaker systems, like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, to obtain user consent to sell recorded conversations, and “used store security-camera footage as an example of data that would be burdensome and risky for businesses to be required to link to consumers in response to data-deletion requests.”
Ring has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks following a spate of media reports about the company’s working partnerships with hundreds of police departments around the country. These agreements, which often require and incentivize law enforcement to encourage widespread Ring adoption in their jurisdictions, are generally made with very little public transparency about what data is collected or shared between the Amazon subsidiary and the police.
California law, meanwhile, is often extremely high stakes. Because the state has such a high population and level of influence, and because of the way the Internet tends to work, California privacy law has in the past become a de facto national standard over time. The CCPA is widely expected to have a similarly large impact—and as an unsurprising result, it has faced significant opposition from industry groups.
Assemblywoman Irwin told Politico she found questions about her spouse to be offensive, given her own personal background as a systems engineer. “My role in the privacy debate in the Legislature is focused on bringing people together and solving the practical issues posed to us as policy makers and is independent of any job or role my husband may have,” she said.
Potential conflicts of interest for California lawmakers, whose spouses, children, or other close relations may work for companies being regulated, are not exactly unheard of, Politico notes. Nor are such conflicts limited to the Golden State by any means. A joint report by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity in late 2017 found dozens of cases where state lawmakers around the country were involved in bills that could affect businesses belonging to themselves or their families. More recently, a joint report between ProPublica and local media in West Virginia found the governor benefiting financially every time state money is spent at one of his resorts—a situation strongly echoing certain federal-level conflicts in the spotlight at the moment as well.