James C. Harrison, a founding partner of Olson Remcho, is widely recognized as one of California’s leading experts on the drafting and defense of complex ballot measures at both the state and local level. In 2020 he drafted and advised on several statewide measures, including the California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”), a landmark consumer privacy measure, that was approved by Californians as Proposition 24 in November 2020.
Harrison’s work on California’s privacy laws began in 2017 when he was retained by Alastair Mactaggart and his advocacy group Californians for Consumer Privacy (“CCP”) to draft a ballot measure that would give Californians new privacy rights and more control over the personal data that they share online. Mactaggart had become alarmed about the way that the major tech and social media companies were exploiting users’ location, spending habits, political views and other personal information to sell targeted advertising.
After CCP collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2018 election, the California legislature jumped into the picture with their own bill. On behalf of Mactaggart and CCP, Harrison participated in an intense two-week drafting and reconciliation session with legislators in June 2018 that married the two pieces of legislation and ultimately resulted in the groundbreaking California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”). At the time it was passed the CCPA was the strictest privacy law in the U.S. and immediately became a model for similar legislation in other states.
“The passage of the CCPA in 2018 shows how policy issues can get a head of steam when the circumstances are right,” said Harrison. “In the case of privacy and the misuse of personal data, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and numerous high profile data breeches had created a public uproar and awakened legislators to the importance of privacy issues to their constituents. Being there when the legislature unanimously adopted the legislation was one of the most remarkable moments in my life.”
But the new legislation wasn’t perfect. Harrison notes that Mactaggart and CCP came back to him in 2019 to help protect the original legislation against efforts by various business groups to water it down. Because of the unique legislative process by which the CCPA was created, Mactaggart and his group had no ability to control future amendments and were thus constantly fighting off attempts to amend the law, including from major tech companies seeking to lessen its impact. For that reason they turned to Harrison for help drafting and qualifying Proposition 24, the CPRA, which made important changes to their original initiative.
The new privacy law, which will go into effect in 2023, lets consumers limit businesses’ use of their sensitive personal information and to opt out of to the sharing of their data, which will mean users are no longer at the mercy of tech companies that have been using their personal data to create targeted ads. The CPRA also creates a new state agency to enforce the law – a responsibility that had previously been lodged with the California Attorney General.
“These are complex issues and Alastair and the CCP are in the fight for the long term,” added Harrison. According to Mactaggart, “We are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society by redefining who is in control of our most personal information and putting consumers back in charge of their own data.”