California state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, introduced legislation on Wednesday, April 6, that could put the state at the forefront of online privacy. Senate Bill 761 would require that consumers in California be given the option of allowing or disallowing companies to track their Web surfing habits. The bill is being likened to the Do Not Call list that allows consumers to prevent telemarketers from calling them.

“California is putting itself in position to lead the fight for increased online privacy by trying to pass the country's first so-called do-not-track law to keep personal data from being grabbed off the Internet,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lowenthal’s bill is sponsored by Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer advocacy group. The bill’s introduction came on the heels of Google co-founder Larry Page’s transition to CEO of the company, taking over from fellow co-founder Eric Schmidt. In a letter to Page, Consumer Watchdog suggested that Google’s past practices lead at least in part to the writing of SB 761.

An excerpt from the letter appeared in The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. “Eric Schmidt’s tenure as CEO was marked by a series of privacy gaffes. We hope yours will begin with a landmark endorsement of a new privacy right for consumers online that shows freedom of information and personal privacy are not incompatible”

Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times that California should copy its efforts with the Do Not Call list by being out front in blocking online tracking. “We will lead and provide stimulus to the rest of the nation,” he said.

Noncompliant companies would face civil penalties, writes Allison Enright of Internet Retailer: “The bill would require any company doing business with consumers in California to tell consumers how their online activity and personal information is being collected, used and stored, and provide them a method to opt out of letting companies track their behavior or use that information. Noncompliant companies would face civil penalties.”

The legislation mirrors ongoing efforts at the federal level that seek similar consumer protections.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is looking “to pass a ‘privacy bill of rights’ to protect Americans from intrusive data gathering, amid growing concern about the tracking and targeting of Internet users.”

Chad Vander Veen  |  Editor, FutureStructure

Chad Vander Veen is the editor of FutureStructure.com