We have written before about how the lack of a national clearinghouse for large data breaches is a significant shortcoming of existing federal law. We have also speculated that if a large state were to create a de facto clearinghouse, the shortcoming may be partially alleviated.

President Obama’s administration may be disappointing many privacy experts to date, but California’s Governator now has an opportunity to make some major strides.

California’s State Legislature approved SB 20, a bill proposed by State Senator Joe Simitian´s (D-Palo Alto), which the Senator states would “strengthen and update California´s landmark privacy protection law.”

Governor Schwarzenegger will have until October 11th to sign or veto the proposed bill.

The existing legislation, originally authored by Simitan, requires that any company or business that loses unencrypted personal information send a security breach notification letter to those affected. Simitan’s office proudly and accurately states that California’s law has been widely praised, and more than 40 states have adopted similar legislation.

At its heart, SB 20 accomplishes two major goals. First, SB 20 would require that the notification letters sent to victims “contain specific information designed to help victims safeguard their privacy. This includes the type of personal information exposed, a description of the incident, and when it took place.”

Second, SB 20 would also require that parties that have a (single event) data breach that affects more than 500 California residents provide a copy of the notification letter to the state Attorney General’s office. This second provision is where the there is now a potential for a clearinghouse. In most conceivable cases of a data breach of any significant size, it is likely that 500 California residents will be affected. Under applicable sunshine laws, this information would be more widely available to watchdog groups, not to mention concerned citizens. It is also conceivable that the Attorney General’s office would post information regarding these reported data breaches on its web site in an easily accessible manner.

While the proposed revision to California’s data breach law is not a cure for the lack of a national database, it does create hope that a national requirement may be on the horizon. In any event, as more states consider and require such reporting requirements, at the very least there may come into existence a patchwork of clearinghouses. Even such a patchwork has the potential to be better than the current systems.