Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Greg Nash

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation Wednesday aimed at closing a loophole that has allowed government agencies to obtain American’s personal data without a warrant.

The Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act — which is co-sponsored by 19 other Senators including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and was introduced in the House by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) — would require a court order for any purchases from third-party data brokers. 

Several reports recently have detailed how agencies like the military and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) purchase information including location data about American citizens from companies that harvest data from smartphone apps.

At least one agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, has justified those purchases arguing that legal precedent about requiring a warrant for obtaining cellphone data only applies to providers, not third-party brokers.

“Doing business online doesn’t amount to giving the government permission to track your every movement or rifle through the most personal details of your life,” Wyden said in a statement. “There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider. This bill closes that legal loophole and ensures that the government can’t use its credit card to end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

The legislation also tackles another growing surveillance issue: facial recognition technology.

The bill would block law enforcement from buying data on individuals if it was obtained through hacking or violations of terms of service or privacy policies. Specifically, the bill seeks to block the use of Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that claims to have amassed a database of more than 3 billion images of individuals by scraping social media sites.

While the controversial company does not disclose who it provides services to, federal contracts and reporting from BuzzFeed News has found it has been used by hundreds of police departments and federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Several immigrant rights and privacy groups earlier this week demanded that DHS terminate any use of Clearview’s systems.

The mammoth bill introduced Wednesday also seeks to reform surveillance authorities including Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to covertly obtain court orders to collect any business records relevant to national security.

The bill includes language mirroring an amendment introduced by Wyden and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) during debate over surveillance authorities that lapsed last year that would bar law enforcement from accessing American’s web browsing data using Section 215.

That amendment fell one vote short in the Senate and a watered-down version of it introduced in the House was pulled by Democratic leadership before they ultimately kicked the surveillance reauthorization debate to a conference committee.

The legislation is being backed by a large coalition of civil liberties and technology groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

“Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have an unhealthy interest in the personal information of people in the United States — which their historical abuses have repeatedly demonstrated is dangerous to our democracy,” said Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at one of those groups, Demand Progress. “It is disturbing and outrageous that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are circumventing Constitutional and statutory protections by purchasing information about people in the United States from data brokers.”

Tags Charles Schumer Data privacy DHS Immigration Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler Patriot Act Rand Paul Ron Wyden Steve Daines Zoe Lofgren
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