California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s hypocrisy on privacy
Examples of hypocrisy in politics are common but in California they are legion. Take Governor Newsom for example. During the pandemic, he lectured Californians to stay home and wear masks while he dined unmasked at a fancy Napa Valley restaurant. And just last weekend, it was revealed that he was vacationing in Montana, a state which is on California’s “no state funds to travel to” list because of its discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people.
Despite Newsom’s “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” arrogance, the winner for this month’s hypocrisy award must go to California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta. Ever since his appointment to office by Governor Newsom – he was not elected – Bonta has crusaded on the issue of consumer privacy. In a March 7th press release he promised that data privacy would be an “enforcement priority,” citing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a bill he enthusiastically supported as a legislator.
Other examples where Bonta has claimed to be a champion of privacy include a May 26th press release stating that those who create health-related apps have a legal obligation “to protect reproductive health information.” Another press release from January of this year touts his putting on notice businesses which have “loyalty” programs such as discounts or other rewards for providing additional data.
In his own words, Bonta has said that the “Enforcement of the CCPA marks an enormous step for privacy protection in California.”
But Bonta’s zealous protection of privacy seems to be selective. Just a few weeks ago, Bonta released a broad range of data related to firearms “to increase transparency and information sharing.” As a government watchdog organization, we’re all for transparency, but it’s hard to ignore the double standard being applied here, especially when it comes to personal information which, if disclosed, could cause injury to thousands of Californians.
While Bonta imposes strict requirements on the private sector to guard private information, his office made an embarrassing, and potentially deadly, disclosure. When a California Department of Justice (DOJ)’s 2022 Firearms Dashboard Portal went online, it made accessible the names, addresses and other personal information of CCW (concealed carry weapon) permit holders.
While the error was reversed within a short time frame – we think – it is unknown who may have been able to download all the personal information. Bonta admitted that “the incident exposed the personal information of individuals who were granted or denied a CCW permit between 2011-2021: “For CCW permit holders and applicants, information disclosed includes full name, date of birth, address, gender, race, CCW license number, California Information Index number (which is automatically generated during a fingerprint check for a CCW or for another purpose), and other government-issued identifiers. In some cases, exposed information may also include driver’s license number, and internal codes corresponding to the statutory reason that a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm.”
It is unlikely that the release of personal information was intentional on Bonta’s part, and he has issued a full mea culpa. But this incident reveals that it is dangerous to be so out front on a political issue that, when things go wrong, it looks even worse. Bonta states that he has launched an investigation and we hope there are consequences for the serious breach, but we doubt there will be. After all, the offenders are government bureaucrats, not private individuals or businesses.
Bonta stated that he is “deeply disturbed and angered” about this breach. So are we, Mr. Bonta. So are we.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.