For Immediate Release

Free Press Action and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Release Proposed 'Online Civil Rights and Privacy Act' to Combat Data Discrimination

WASHINGTON - On Monday, Free Press Action and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released model legislation for Congress to consider in its ongoing online-privacy debates. This bill prioritizes combating civil-rights harms from the invasive privacy practices of tech and big data companies.

“Congress needs to prohibit the use of personal data to discriminate in employment, housing, lending, education, insurance and the right to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Civil-rights laws previously addressed these issues in brick-and-mortar commerce. These laws were never intended to omit the digital public square. It is time to update our toolkit for the data economy.”

Commercial-data practices have disproportionate impacts on communities of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, religious minorities and other marginalized communities. By collecting huge swaths of personal information and feeding it into algorithms designed to profile individuals for ad targeting and engagement maximization, tech companies are engaging in and facilitating a new generation of segregation and discrimination.

This bill is a comprehensive data-protection act that builds on decades of civil-rights law and experience.

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It prohibits discrimination in economic opportunities and online public accommodations; prohibits deceptive voter suppression; requires audits for discriminatory processing; restricts unfair and deceptive practices; limits the use of personal data to disclosed and foreseeable purposes; grants individuals the right to access and control their own data; establishes clear and thorough transparency and security rules; and empowers robust enforcement at the individual, state and federal levels.

“People need to feel confident that when they go online to shop, communicate, look for jobs and participate in our democracy, their personal information won’t be exploited or used by companies to build tools that reinforce discrimination,” said Gaurav Laroia, policy counsel at Free Press Action. “Biased algorithms have the potential to further harm people of color and other communities that are already under attack. This legislation enables people to protect their rights and will help us build a more just and equitable country.”

The model bill is available here and a section-by-section description is available here.

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