Congress Urged To Restrict 'Alarming' Sale Of App Data To Law Enforcement

Advocacy groups are urging lawmakers to move forward with a bill that would restrict government agencies' ability to purchase information gleaned from consumers' use of apps.

The measure, introduced last year, is endorsed by the ad industry self-regulatory group Network Advertising Initiative.

“This legislation enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers for a good reason -- what the government is doing is alarming,” the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press and more than 40 other watchdogs say in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

The advocacy organizations' letter comes in support of the “Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act,” introduced last year in the Senate by 20 lawmakers including Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and in the House by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) and Zoe Lofgren (D-California).



The bill would require law enforcement and intelligence agencies to obtain a court order before buying personal information from data brokers, and also prohibit those agencies from purchasing data obtained through deception or violations of a privacy policy.

“Data from apps most Americans routinely use are open to warrantless examination by the government,” the supporters write. “Data sources that the government has exploited include gaming apps that produce data that can be used to target children and a Muslim prayer app that can be used to target Americans by their religion.”

While it is not a signatory to the letter sent this week, the self-regulatory industry group Network Advertising Initiative weighed in last year in support of the bill.

"The nonconsensual sale of consumer data for law enforcement and foreign intelligence purposes is unethical, it poses a serious privacy threat to consumers, and it ultimately threatens the viability of data-driven advertising," President and CEO Leigh Freund stated last April.

She added that the organization "is particularly concerned about downstream uses of precise consumer location data."

The organization recommended in 2020 that ad companies obtain consumers' consent before sharing highly sensitive location data (or other highly sensitive information) with law enforcement authorities or public health officials. That suggestion is not part of the privacy group's official code.

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