Supervisor's Report

Protecting personal information from corporate abuse

Supervisor Peskin's new law would attempt to rein in the widespread collection and reuse of personal information by large tech companies. Photo: LoboStudioHamburg

Last month, together with a majority of the Board of Supervisors, I introduced another precedent-setting “only in San Francisco” public policy to safeguard our fundamental American right to privacy. Voters will have an opportunity to vote on my Privacy First Policy in November. If passed, it would establish a set of privacy principles to guide the city’s consideration of contracting and permitting approvals. It would be the first time that a major city has taken such expansive action to protect its residents from the misuse and misappropriation of their personal, private information by corporations for profit.

Everyday, consumers are required to divulge sensitive private information to receive services, make financial transactions, and participate in the sharing economy. The information technology sector has continued to grow, largely without a sensible regulatory framework and with little oversight.

The recent Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal made international headlines and continues to generate concerns stemming from the intentional harvesting of the personal data of 87 million unconsenting Facebook users, which played a central role in the two-day series of congressional hearings on Facebook’s overall business practices. The New York Times recently exposed types of personal data collected by mega-corporations like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Amazon, and recently news broke that Amazon is deeply engaged in the sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies, which allow cities to cross-check peoples’ public identities against deeply personal data sets.

In the wake of these revelations, we must shine a spotlight on the ways private and public companies collect our personal information and exploit it — not just to target ads for marketing or political campaigns, but also to create expansive user profiles based on sensitive information, and to target vulnerable communities. At the broadest level, this widespread business practice fundamentally distorts and damages our system of representative democracy for massive profit. At its most extreme, this business model has enabled election fraud and ruined lives.

My Privacy First Policy would direct the City and County of San Francisco to enact policies that ensure that any collection or use of personal information is done so transparently, lawfully, securely, narrowly, and with the input of communities that might be disparately impacted by any misuse of data. It also directs the city and its various contractors, permittees, licensees, and grantees to develop publicly available policies regarding their collection and use of personal information to prevent civil liberties violations and to protect the best interests of the general public.

San Francisco has long prided itself on being a city of innovation. With the information technology sector shaping much of our city’s identity, San Francisco has the responsibility to set ground rules that protect the best interests of the general public. We have long led the nation in legislating groundbreaking ideas, and this is an opportunity to set a standard for other cities to follow suit and to be ambassadors for San Francisco values. We can and should draw a bright line as to what kind of behavior we choose to accept by the corporations we do business with and set public policies that reflect our values — instead of rewarding companies that exploit our private citizens’ personal information.


In other news, we bid farewell to our dear friend Lee Radner of the Friends of Golden Gateway last month. He passed away after giving decades of his life to organizing for affordable housing and public open space in the Barbary Coast neighborhood. His passing is another reminder to cherish San Francisco’s special neighborhood souls and learn from their institutional knowledge and lived experiences while we have them with us. This month, reach out off-line and get to know a new person face-to-face in the neighborhood, organize a community clean-up on your block, or check in on an elderly neighbor who might need a friendly hello or help with an errand. You are helping to make the community stronger!


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