So goes the country: outlawing investigative deception in California

The significant, far-reaching SB 1666, Personal Information: Obtaining Information, California legislation sponsored by Sen. Bowen, aims to make pretexting and subterfuge illegal, eliminating a research tool that can protect the privacy of the very people the bill claims to champion. It’s also an encroachment on free speech, but none of the First Amendment organizations have come out against it. Most businesses and professional organizations that will be pinched by this virtually unenforceable law have been mute, probably in hopes of saving political capital. NCISS, CALI and MPAA were the only organizations testifying before the Banking, Finance and Insurance Committee hearing last week. Where are the process servers, debt collection agencies, heir finders, missing persons and health organizations, to name a few of the groups that will be adversely affected?

Sen. Bowen has so far declined requests to add specificity to the mushy language of the bill that would limit its reach to instances of fraudulent intent. There will probably be an amendment to exempt use of deception for employment investigations; the inevitable provision exempting law enforcement from coverage is included.

The bill now moves to the Appropriations Committee, offering an opportunity for public defender and attorney organizations to step forward. If you are connected with any entity that could be harmed by SB 1666 you should get them to lobby Sen. Bowen and testify at the next hearing.

There’s no distinction in the bill’s language between a pretext, a person representing themselves as the subject, and subterfuge, a deception which does not involve use of a real person’s identity. There are many situations in which a subterfuge is necessary to protect a client, a witness to a legal case or a person’s medical status. All of these require lying but none rely on impersonation. An investigation of theft, fraud, missing persons or business due diligence could be hampered by disallowing deception to gather any information on a business customer or employee, which this legislation currently does.

The bill analysis addresses some of the concerns raised by private investigators.

The California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) opposes this bill “unless it is amended to ensure that it would not impede the legitimate efforts of licensed private investigators to pursue important investigations.” CALI argues that this bill would prohibit efforts to obtain any personal information about a customer or employee of business by making false or fictitious statements. CALI contends that it is in the very nature of their business that they must sometimes make a statement “that is not entirely accurate” in order to obtain information about a person, especially when the case involves child abduction or tracking down persons who are deliberately concealing personal information in order to avoid meeting some obligation, such as paying child support.

I previously cited a few news stories on SB 1666.

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3 thoughts on “So goes the country: outlawing investigative deception in California

  1. I imagine the state has not yet and will not in the near future figure out that this bill will take a big ortion of our business away meaning without that work a portion of us will have to close our doors. Less revenue for the state.

  2. Hmmm, Will the press be exempted also? It’s common for them to lie or mistate the truth in order to get info for a story.

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