Feb. 23 2015 05:46 PM

How state legislators hope to regulate the Internet this session


Carl Malamud, a living legend in the government-transparency movement, likes to say that "law is the operating system of our society." I take that to mean that instead of computer code, our government is controlled by a framework of rules and subroutines that determine what we can and can't do and what the government will do to help or prosecute us. In this metaphor, our state legislators in Sacramento are computer scientists, maybe even hackers, who are constantly adding to the source code, sometimes patching vulnerabilities, but just as often adding new bugs.

Each session, lawmakers also attempt to quite literally change how computers work in California, with bills on everything from online commerce to state-funded pilot projects. This week, I'll take you through some of the most noteworthy bills introduced so far, but first, a few full disclosures.

My day job is at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital-civil-liberties group that's already lent its support to one bill and might weigh in on some of these other measures. My opinions here don't necessarily reflect those of my employer, but you should suck on that grain of salt anyway. Also, my boss here at CityBeat, David Rolland, will be leaving in March to join Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins' team in Sacramento.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto's "Wiki" bill and Reddit hearing: It seems that every lawmaking body these days has at least one legislator who's pushing the boundaries of civic engagement. In Congress, it's Rep. Darrell Issa, who's now famous for his social-media outreach and legislation-crowdsourcing efforts. Gatto, a Democrat, is implementing this on the state level by crowdsourcing text for a new privacy bill (details at mikegatto.wikia.com), which means anyone can go and propose language and policy ideas. Augmenting that effort, on Tuesday, Feb. 24, Gatto will host a live stream of one of the privacy hearings during an Ask-Me-Anything session on Reddit. 

Assemblymember Marie Waldron's revenge-porn bill: This week, Hunter Moore agreed to plead guilty to charges that he solicited hackers to steal nude photos from email accounts for his website, IsAnyoneUp.com. Waldron's bill, AB 32, would increase the penalty for criminal hacking if it involves "acquiring, copying, or distributing" intimate images. Under the bill, a district attorney could pursue up to $10,000 in fines for each stolen image. 

Waldron's video-game tax credit: A 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 67 percent of Republicans think video games are a bigger threat than guns. Waldron, a noted right-winger, isn't one of them. This session, she's introduced AB 16, a tax credit for the "multi-billion dollar video game industry" as well as "the small start-up companies developing apps and smartphone software."

Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2015: Gatto and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer have introduced pretty much identical bills (AB 9 and AB 167, respectively) that would establish a fairly complicated regulatory scheme for intrastate online-poker sites. It includes requirements that sites apply for licenses and put down $5-million deposits. 

Expanding computer crimes: With AB 195, Assemblymember Ed Chau wants to expand the state's anti-hacking laws to criminalize the operation of websites that offer hacking services. Before he pursues this any further, Chau should watch the documentary The Internet's Own Boy to familiarize himself with how vaguely phrased computer-crime laws have been abused to persecute young innovators and activists such as Aaron Swartz.

Digital driver's licenses: Assemblymember Matt Dababneh has introduced AB 221, which would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to develop a mobile app that allows a driver to access a digital copy of her or his driver's license. 

Data breaches: Dababneh's AB 259 would place significant liabilities on state agencies that are the sources of data breaches. If the breach reveals someone's social security number or driver's license number, the agency must provide the victim with a year's worth of free identity-theft prevention and mitigation services.

California Electronic Communications Privacy Act: EFF is a strong supporter of this comprehensive update to digital privacy laws. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a previous version, but this time the bill is backed by some of the major Silicon Valley corporations, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Among the key provisions: A law-enforcement officer would need to obtain a search warrant before searching a mobile device or compelling a service provider to hand over communications and files, such as emails, text messages and location information. 

To learn more about the bills or to subscribe to updates visit leginfo.legislature.ca.gov

Email davem@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter @Maassive.