Democrats target location data sales

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday introduced legislation targeting the sale of location data by third-party data brokers.

The Health and Location Data Protection Act would ban companies in the shadowy multibillion-dollar industry from selling or transferring sensitive data.

The Federal Trade Commission would be given $1 billion over 10 years to promulgate and enforce rules on data brokers. State attorneys general and individuals would also be allowed to sue for violations of the new law.

The data broker industry has come under renewed scrutiny in light of the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing abortion bans in several states to take effect.

The tech news publication Motherboard, which first reported on the legislation, has identified several data brokers selling location data gathered from smartphones of people visiting abortion clinics, information that could easily be weaponized by prosecutors to crack down on pregnancy terminations.

“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people, posing serious risks to Americans everywhere by selling their most private information,” said Warren. 

“With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data,” she continued. “The Health and Location Data Protection Act will ban brokers from selling Americans’ location and health data, rein in giant data brokers, and set some long overdue rules of the road for this $200 billion industry.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

While the bill is being pitched in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned, it would have more wide-ranging implications for the data broker industry.

The complex net of apps, data harvesters and aggregators that take the digital footprints of unsuspecting consumers and sell them has become an essential fountain of information for a variety of government agencies and law enforcement.

Wyden has introduced legislation, the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act, that would require agencies to obtain a warrant before purchasing any third-party data about American citizens.

Tags Bernie Sanders data brokers Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren Federal Trade Commission Location data Patty Murray Ron Wyden Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse

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