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California Assemblyman Mike Gatto Talks Data Security, Tech Education

Gatto, a Democrat representing communities in the Los Angeles area, has a number of technology-related bills moving through the California Legislature this year.

As an early adopter of using crowdsourcing to let California residents draft state legislation, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, has an appreciation for how technology can help shape an issue.

He was the first lawmaker in the state to submit a crowdsourced bill – a probate law change that allows a court to assign a guardian to a deceased person’s pet. And while that measure failed to pass last year, Gatto is back with a new crowdsourced legislation and an array of other technology-centered bills in 2015.

Government Technology spoke to Gatto about the legislation he’s working on this session and why technology is vital to the future of California.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Government Technology: Your crowdsourced legislation this year deals with data security. What does it do and, reading the tea leaves a bit, what do you think its prospects are in the Legislature? 
Mike Gatto: This year, we focused solely on privacy issues – it is an issue that is “sufficiently wonky” for experts in the field, but it touches the lives of each and every person in California. The people spoke, contributed, and debated the subject. The conversations led to the introduction of AB 83, a bill that will require businesses and corporations to enhance their online security standards when storing customers’ personal and private information, such as Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and financial information.   
Last year, we were very close to having the first crowdsourced bill become law. Every bill is difficult to pass in the Legislature, but I have my fingers crossed that AB 83 will make it through the Legislature and be signed by the governor.  
GT: So how does AB 83 change the data security landscape for businesses to work with the state?
MG: AB 83 requires businesses that store private personal information to maintain minimum protection standards for the storage of personal data. My bill will establish a new, “reasonably prudent business” standard.

This standard, applied regularly in tort law, means that a business owes a duty of care to its customer. If a business’s conduct falls below this standard of care (i.e., it did not act as a reasonable and prudent business), then it will be deemed to have breached this duty.

AB 83 will require businesses to, at a minimum, do the following three things: 

  • Identify internal and external risks to privacy;
  • Establish and implement reasonable safeguards to ensure the privacy of personal information; and
  • Regularly assess existing safeguards.
GT: AB 1483 seeks to create a University of California campus devoted entirely to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Why include “Arts” in the bill if the intent is to increase more “STEM” graduates?
MG: California is home to companies like Apple, Pixar and Lucasfilm that embody the creative intersection of technology and art. As the center of both the entertainment and tech industry, California is the perfect place to encourage an interdisciplinary study of these fields and to educate students capable of working in these areas.

The critical “Arts” component is often incorrectly understood to be some stand-alone program that falls somewhere between science and math. The reality is that these “STEM” subjects are integrated in a world – beyond the ivory towers of academia – that demands creative problem-solving skills. 

GT: Analysts have pointed out that the amount of graduates in STEM subjects has increased by three percentage points in the state since 2000. So why do you think AB 1483 is needed?
MG: According to a 2012 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. will need 2.3 million scientists and engineers to meet growth and net replacement costs. The BLS report points out that the science and engineering workforce is expected to grow by 14.3 percent by 2022. The Legislature needs to start thinking about the long-term outlook of California’s higher education system.
GT: AB 8 stems from the vetoed AB 47 that creates a “yellow alert” system for hit and run incidents that can get pushed to devices, similar to the Amber Alert. Yet, AB 47 was vetoed by the governor last year. How has AB 8 addressed his concerns over “overloading” the amount of alerts and testing the technology?
MG: AB 8 has been narrowly crafted to address the governor’s concerns about overloading the state’s existing network of changeable message signs. As such, the “Yellow Alert” will be broadcast only when a hit-and-run driver seriously injures or kills a victim. The local police jurisdiction will have authority to broadcast an alert on adjacent highway signs only when they have the model of the vehicle and a partial plate number. A “Yellow Alert’ will be displayed only on the highway signs and not sent to cellphones throughout the state. 
GT: A number of states have these “hit and run” mobile alerts and have been successful with them. How does AB 8 differ from some of those other alert systems?
MG: I was inspired to introduce AB 8 to make a change in the large amount of hit-and-run incidents occurring throughout Los Angeles. The significant increase in apprehensions as a result of Denver’s “Medina Alert” system was very encouraging and I felt that a similar system in California could work.

Obviously California is a very large state, so we decided that the “Yellow Alert” should only be made in the local area of an incident and not statewide. A hit-and-run incident that happened in Salinas shouldn’t be broadcast in Pasadena.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.