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Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) waves as he arrives on stage during Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) event announcing her official bid for president on February 9, 2019 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

'A More Just and Equitable Future': Advocates Welcome Markey's Privacy Bill of Rights

"People must have the right to safely choose who they give their personal information to and need enforceable rules over how it can be used."

Jessica Corbett

Advocates for strengthening personal data protections welcomed Sen. Ed Markey's introduction Friday of the Privacy Bill of Rights Act as "necessary to ensuring that fairness, privacy, and civil rights flourish in the internet age."

"Senator Markey's Privacy Bill of Rights Act sets a strong, rights-based standard for consumer privacy protection under federal law that goes beyond mere notice and choice."
—Dylan Gilbert, Public Knowledge

Markey, a longtime privacy advocate and member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, charged that his legislation is needed because "America's laws have failed to keep pace with the unprecedented use of consumers' data and the consistent cadence of breaches and privacy invasions that plague our economy and society."

"It is increasingly clear that a true 21st century comprehensive privacy bill must do more than simply enshrine notice and consent standards," the senator said. "That's why my Privacy Bill of Rights Act puts discriminatory data uses out of bounds and tells companies that they can only collect the information that is necessary to provide the product or service requested by the consumer."

While the new proposal from the Massachusetts Democrat would apply both online and offline, Free Press Action policy counsel Gaurav Laroia celebrated that "Senator Markey's bill will help enable people to use the internet without fear of exploitation or discrimination from companies intent on mining their private data."

"People must have the right to safely choose who they give their personal information to," Laroia said, "and need enforceable rules over how it can be used."

Dylan Gilbert, a policy fellow at the nonprofit Public Knowledge, said that "Senator Markey's Privacy Bill of Rights Act sets a strong, rights-based standard for consumer privacy protection under federal law that goes beyond mere notice and choice."

Specifically, according to a statement from Markey's office, the legislation:

  • Prohibits companies from using individuals' personal information in discriminatory ways;
  • Requires companies to protect and secure the personal information that they hold;
  • Establishes a centralized Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website that tells consumers about their privacy rights and requires companies to use easy to read short-form notices provided directly to consumers;
  • Ensures companies collect only the information they need from consumers in order to provide the requested services; and
  • Enables state attorneys general to protect the interest of their residents and bring action against companies that violate the privacy rights of individuals. Individuals will also have a private right of action empowering them to defend their own privacy rights.

Noting that discriminatory data practices disproportionately impact marginalized groups—including people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and religious minorities—Free Press's Laroia explained that "by classifying online businesses as public accommodations, the bill rightfully applies the same kinds of anti-discrimination protections that desegregated lunch counters and shops during the Civil Rights Movement."

"By giving people the right to take companies to court for violating their rights, the bill gives people the means to fight exploitation of their data and would prevent companies from building tools that reinforce discrimination," Laroia added. "Along with safeguarding the right to privacy online, these civil-rights protections help ensure we continue to build a more just and equitable future."

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