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Voters Approve Big Data Privacy Reforms

Computer security or safety concept. Laptop keyboard with lock and chain. 3d
By Andrew Leonatti on December 01, 2020 12:04 PM

Lost in all the ongoing hoopla of Election Day 2020 is some big news for fans of keeping their online data private in the face of corporate and government snooping.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Michigan approved some pretty significant changes. While only residents of these states will benefit in the short-term, they indicate where the national mood is regarding data privacy and getting access to information corporations collect on you.

California Strengthens Existing Data Privacy Law

Earlier this year, the California Consumer Privacy Act took effect. The first law of its kind in the U.S. gives Californians more control over what companies do with their data.

But that law apparently did not go far enough for Californians, as voters approved additional enhancements to the law. The measure will create a new state agency charged with enforcing the law, which proponents argue will be much more consumer-friendly than the California Department of Justice.

That new agency will be in charge of writing a slew of regulations to strengthen the Consumer Privacy Act. With a law like this affecting such a large share of the country's population, many companies will likely extend the same protections to other Americans outside of California, as well.

Massachusetts Residents Assert 'Right to Repair'

In Massachusetts, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure expanding the state's "Right to Repair" law when it comes to cars.

The new law applies to auto manufacturers that make cars equipped with "telematics" systems, a tracking device in the vehicle that transmits data about the vehicle's performance and actions (speed, braking, etc.). Automakers will have to install an open platform telematics system that allows vehicle owners and independent repair shops to access that data for repairs and maintenance.

This will give consumers more options for car repairs than returning to a manufacturer for repairs because the maker is the only company that can access the data.

Automakers strongly opposed the measure. But voters in Massachusetts, a state that already has one of the country's strongest "Right to Repair" laws, clearly thought they needed even stronger protections. Manufacturers will have to install the new systems starting with model year 2022 vehicles.

Michigan Voters Protect Data From Police

By a crushing margin (who says voters can't agree on things?), voters in Michigan approved an amendment to the state's constitution that treats electronic data and communications the same as it does your home and property when it comes to searches and seizures.

In short, if police and prosecutors want to look at your phone or access your emails and text messages, they are going to need a warrant, just as they would if they wanted to search your home.

While the three ballot measures all deal with different data protection types and access issues, they send a clear message: Our data is private, and it belongs to us. How governments and corporations respond to this rising tide will be one of the most interesting policy debates of the next few years.

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