NU Online News Service, June 16, 2003, 5:52 p.m. EDT – Big nonprofit groups are backing an effort in California to put a strict financial services privacy initiative on the state’s March 2004 ballot.

The initiative begins with the statement that, “The People of the State of California find and declare: (a) Banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions invade our privacy when they sell or share our personal information without our permission.”

If the initiative passes, California law would forbid a financial institution from disclosing “a California consumer’s Confidential Consumer Information to another person or entity, including an affiliate,” unless the institution had obtained the “express, affirmative consent of the consumer,” according to the initiative text.

The groups supporting the initiative include AARP, Washington, and Consumers Union, Yonkers, N.Y. Californians for Privacy Now, San Francisco, the coalition formed to run the initiative campaign, says it already has collected 200,000 of the 373,816 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

The California Association of Health Underwriters, Sacramento, Calif., is one of the business groups now supporting California Senate Bill 1, a bill that would impose tight restrictions on moves by financial services companies to share information with affiliates.

But Californians for Privacy Now is accusing financial services companies of blocking serious privacy reforms.

“The financial services industry spent $20 million to defeat stronger privacy legislation in California,” the coalition says in a statement on its Web site. “We need your support now to win this initiative.”

“We are confident that this initiative will easily qualify for the ballot and will enjoy broad support among California voters,” Michael Moreno, an AARP state legislative representative, says in a statement distributed by Californians for Privacy Now.

More information about the initiative is available at http://www.californiaprivacy.org