House To Mark Up Bill Restricting Police From Purchasing Consumer Data

The House Judiciary committee on Wednesday is scheduled to mark up a bipartisan bill that aims to curb the government's ability to purchase Americans' data, including information about their online activity, app use and locations.

The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, reintroduced Friday in the House, would require law enforcement and intelligence agencies to obtain a court order before buying personal information from data brokers, and also prohibit government agencies from purchasing data obtained through deception or violations of a privacy policy.

Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) introduced this year's version of the bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Zoe Lofgren (D-California), Ken Buck (R-Colorado), Pamila Jayapal (D-Washington), Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) and Sara Jacobs (D-California).

The bill was first was introduced in the House and Senate in 2021.

The bill's reintroduction comes several weeks after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) released a report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which said intelligence agencies are purchasing commercially available data about people -- including information about their online activity, and their locations.

“The volume and sensitivity of [commercially available information] have expanded in recent years mainly due to the advancement of digital technology, including location-tracking and other features of smartphones and other electronic devices, and the advertising-based monetization models that underlie many commercial offerings available on the internet,” the report stated.

Wyden, one of the original sponsors of the bill in 2021, last month urged lawmakers “to pass legislation to put guardrails around government purchases, to rein in private companies that collect and sell this data, and keep Americans’ personal information out of the hands of our adversaries.”

When the bill was first introduced two years ago, it drew the support of the ad industry self-regulatory group Network Advertising Initiative.

“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,” Leigh Freund, the group's CEO and president, stated in April of 2021.

Dozens of advocacy groups -- including the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press -- also previously expressed support for the bill.

“Data from apps most Americans routinely use are open to warrantless examination by the government,” advocates wrote to lawmakers in January 2022. “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.”

On Tuesday, Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the tech industry funded policy group Chamber of Progress, stated there is “serious concern that law enforcement is working around the Fourth Amendment by purchasing our private data on the market.”

“Following recent reports about the widespread use of data brokers by government agencies, there’s bipartisan momentum to get something done on this issue and prevent unconstitutional government surveillance,” he added.

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