Senate Democrats have tried for more than three years to pass legislation that would enable consumers to wield more control over how information about them is used by data brokers.
Now, the lawmakers are obviously hoping that outrage over the Equifax breach will lend their efforts some momentum. Today, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass,), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced a bill that would give consumers the right to prevent their information from being sold by data brokers for marketing purposes.
“The era of data keepers has given way to an era of data reapers," Markey stated. "We need to shed light on this ‘shadow’ industry of surreptitious data collection that has amassed covert dossiers on hundreds of millions of Americans."
The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act would also enable consumers to access and correct information about them that is held by data brokers. The measure tasks the Federal Trade Commission with enforcement.
Markey and other lawmakers have introduced similar bills in the past, but this latest proposal comes just days after the credit bureau Equifax disclosed that hackers obtained a host of personal information -- including names, Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses -- of around 143 million people.
On Thursday lawmakers explicitly tied the new bill to the Equifax security breach. “The unprecedented breach of Equifax’s databases, which compromised the sensitive data of 143 million Americans, underscores the need for transparency and accountability from the companies that trade on our privacy," Franken stated.
Five years ago, the Federal Trade Commission called for new laws that would require data brokers to give consumers access to information about them. The FTC also urged data brokers to create a centralized site where they can explain to consumers how their data is collected and used.
In 2013, former Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) called lawmakers' attention to some controversial data brokers' practices -- including offering to sell lists of “genetic disease sufferers,” “payday loan responders” and other vulnerable groups.
Ad groups have generally opposed efforts to curb data brokers. In 2014, the Data and Marketing Association argued against a previous version of the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act, claiming the measure would "stymie the responsible use of data."