from the soft-corruption-at-work dept
We’ve talked in the past about “soft corruption,” a term I first heard from Larry Lessig. Lots of people have a general sense of what actual corruption is, but less understanding of the specifics. But, in general, people feel uncomfortable with the ways in which money can influence politics, even when it’s legal. Lessig’s concept of “soft corruption” is the sort of thing that is legal, but feels corrupt to most people upon seeing it. Lessig’s point is that even if the actions around soft corruption are legal, they lead to a lot less trust in the government, because no matter how legal it is, it sure feels sketchy.
A month ago, with very little fanfare (many of us didn’t even know that there was an opening on the board), it was announced that Alastair Mactaggart had been appointed to California’s Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA).
This raised a lot of eybrows (I know, because so many people reached out to ask if I’d seen it).
If you don’t know, the main reason that the CPPA exists is because Mactaggart, who had no background or understanding of privacy issues, spent millions of dollars to launch a California ballot initiative to screw up California’s privacy laws. Here’s how he described his entrance into the world of privacy issues to CNN:
Alastair Mactaggart’s push for a groundbreaking privacy law was conceived in the bathroom.
In his own retelling, the real estate developer’s story had always begun with a Google engineer. The engineer told Mactaggart he would be “horrified” to know how much data Google collects on its users. Soon after, Mactaggart — a political novice — would learn about ballot initiatives, a powerful if controversial tool Californians can use to directly make state policy.
But he told CNN it was “literally a shower thought” that led him to marry the two ideas, paving the way for a landmark California law regulating apps, websites and tech companies that could set a precedent for the rest of America. Even the law’s biggest critics, such as the Internet Association, a tech trade group, have acknowledged its passage as “historic.”
“One day in the shower,” Mactaggart said, “I was like, ‘You know what? We should have an initiative on these things. It’s a pretty cool idea.’”
This is… not someone who had a deep understanding of internet privacy, and the various tradeoffs involved. And… it shows. Mactaggart then put many, many millions of dollars into a ballot initiative in California in 2018 to bake his half-baked ideas about internet privacy into the California constitution. His ideas were so confused, and so bad that the California legislature cut a deal with Mactaggart. If he dropped the ballot initiative, they would pass a law, the California Privacy Act of 2018 that created the CCPA. That law was rushed into existence to try to get Mactaggart to move away from his completely unworkable concept of privacy. As we noted, the bill was better than Mactaggart’s ballot initiative, but still a complete mess — as can be seen by the fact that it’s four years later and still no one is quite sure what the law does, and the CCPA is still trying to figure it out itself.
But, despite cutting a deal with California that he would drop the ballot initiative if they passed the CCPA in 2018, Mactaggart reneged on the deal. Because in 2020 he came back with another version of his ballot initiative, and threw many more millions of his own dollars behind it. And, with millions of Mactaggart’s money behind it, and just the fact that if you vaguely say “this proposition will protect privacy” people will vote for it, it passed, even as folks like the ACLU warned it would be a disaster. The main thing that the new provision did was remove the ability of companies to fix violations before getting penalized for them, which is a hell of a thing when no one knows how to possibly comply with this ridiculously confused law that does not understand how anything works.
The CCPA has spent years trying to sort out what this law means, with it mostly supposed to officially take effect starting January 1, 2023. Just the fact that it’s taken this commission this long to even try to sort through what the law that was first passed four years ago actually means should be, you know, a warning sign.
But, to put Mactaggart onto the board just reeks of corruption. Again, this whole mess only exists because he put tens of millions of dollars towards making it happen. It’s not hard to look at that and think that this super rich guy, who had a bright idea in the shower about internet privacy, without understanding any of the nuances and tradeoffs associated with privacy laws, effectively bought himself a position as an enforcer of the privacy laws he forced into being.
How can anyone take the board seriously when the guy who paid to create it (despite not understanding any of it) then gets a hand in running it?
Filed Under: alastair mactaggart, california, ccpa, ccpr, privacy
Source by www.techdirt.com