School of Information alumnus Ashkan Soltani, MIMS ’09, was appointed Executive Director of the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA).
Soltani was a key architect in the creation of California’s recent privacy laws.
California Privacy Laws
In November of 2020, California voters approved Proposition 24, the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (CPRA). The CPRA added new privacy protections to the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA).
The CCPA is the nation’s strongest digital privacy law; it gives California consumers more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them, and secures the rights to know about and delete personal information collected from them, and opt-out of the sale of their personal data. The California Privacy Rights Act (Prop 24) established a new agency, the California Privacy Protection Agency, to implement and enforce the law.
Soltani had a pivotal role in writing both CPRA and CCPA. In his new position, he will oversee the Agency’s execution of the CCPA, enforcement activities, rulemaking, public awareness, and will build and lead Agency staff.
“California is leading the way when it comes to privacy rights and I’m honored to be able to serve its residents,” Soltani said in a statement. “I am eager to get to work to help build the agency’s team and begin doing the work required by CCPA and the CPRA.”
Soltani previously served as the Senior Advisor to the White House Chief Technology Officer, where he worked to shape technology-related public policy, and as the Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, where he assisted with government investigations of Google and Facebook for misleading user privacy practices. He currently holds dual appointments at Georgetown University Law School as a Distinguished Fellow at both the Institute for Technology Law & Policy and the Center on Privacy & Technology, where he helps to support state attorneys general on technology matters.
From MIMS student to leading privacy expert
“From his days as a student at the School of Information, Ashkan had a deeply strategic and savvy hold on information practices,” said Chris Hoofnagle, who holds joint appointments in Information and in the School of Law at UC Berkeley, and is the incoming faculty director of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. “His capstone project reopened and reframed a debate about how companies collect data and about the low-quality of consent that was present in personal information transactions.”
Soltani’s capstone project KnowPrivacy was a Chen-Award winning MIMS final project in 2009. The project team, including Joshua Gomez, Travis Pinnick, and advisor Brian Carver published a landmark paper based on the research. Soltani went on to conduct similar research, which was the basis for the Wall St. Journal’s award-winning series, “What They Know” series, which shed light on the extensive and pervasive internet tracking and surveillance technology following users daily.
Now, Soltani is considered one of the country’s leading experts on privacy and security.
“Soltani’s CPPA will have expert credibility on day one,” Professor Hoofnagle said. “It will require companies to advocate differently—lawyers will have to have a forensic-level understanding of client practices. Soltani’s CPPA is likely to be much more structural in intervention, meaning that it will focus on consequential cases where single enforcement actions will have network effects.”
“We are thrilled to have Ashkan join the California Privacy Protection Agency,” said Agency Board Chair Jennifer Urban, a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Policy Initiatives for the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley. “His background in technology and privacy, and his work on both the CCPA and the CPRA give him a thorough understanding of California privacy law and will stand him in good stead as he leads Agency staff and helps the Agency fulfill its privacy protection mandate.”