This week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law held a hearing to discuss the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, a bill reintroduced in March by Senator Al Franken (D-MN).  Most concerned with the potential for misuse and abuse of location data for purposes of stalking and perpetrating domestic violence, Senator Franken, who chairs the Subcommittee on Privacy, made clear at the hearing his view that, “Stalking apps must be shut down.”  Franken clarified, however, that his bill is not only intended to protect victims of stalking, but provides basic privacy safeguards for sensitive location information pertaining to all consumers.  Most critically, Senator Franken suggested that because location data lacks sufficient legislative protection, some of the most popular apps used widely by average consumers have been found to disclose users’ precise location to third parties without obtaining user permission.  Further, he noted that in light of stalking apps that are deceptively labeled as something else, such as “parental monitoring,” it is necessary to create a law with basic rules for any service that collects location information.

The witnesses representing law enforcement, federal agencies, and consumer-advocacy and anti-domestic violence groups gave testimony sharing Senator Franken’s concerns, and also suggested that industry self-regulation in this area so far has not been consistent or transparent.  Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, for example, noted that broadly speaking, while many industry groups and individual companies purport to adopt the opt-in model as a best practice, enforcement has shown that the standard is in fact not complied with on a regular basis. 

In response, witnesses representing industry largely rejected the notion that legislation like Senator Franken’s is needed at this time.  Expressing particular worry that laws and regulations are inflexible and can quickly become outdated in the face of rapidly evolving technologies, Lou Mastria, Executive Director of the Digital Advertising Association (“DAA”), testified that innovation is better served by self-regulation, which can adapt to new business models because it is more “nimble” than government regulation, as subcommittee ranking member Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) phrased it.  Mr. Mastria pointed to the DAA’s Self-Regulatory Principles as an effective framework for self-regulation.  Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, however, contested the usefulness of DAA’s code, calling it weak, “full of holes,” and “late to the game,” especially in the face of her view that there is “monumental evidence that self-regulation is not working.”

Continue Reading Senate Subcommittee Examines “Stalking Apps” Bill

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Immigration Policy Center last week released an interesting report on law enforcement’s increasing efforts to gather biometric data, and associated risks of data inaccuracy, racial profiling, erroneous deportations, security breaches, and privacy invasions.  The report calls for greater accountability in the biometrics context, including collection and retention limitations; clear rules for collection, use, and sharing; robust security; notice requirements; and independent oversight. 

In recent months, a number of policymakers have raised concerns about both public and private collection of biometric data.  For example,

Continue Reading Biometric Data Under the Privacy Microscope

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began its consideration of the several pending data security bills by marking up S. 1151, the legislation introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). 

S. 1151 would require business entities to develop a data privacy and security plan for protecting sensitive personally identifiable information, require agencies and business entities to notify U.S. residents in the event of a security breach involving such information, and impose criminal penalties for intentionally and willfully failing to provide notice of a security breach.

The original version of the bill also contained separate privacy requirements for data brokers, but a substitute amendment deleting that title was adopted by the Committee on Thursday.  The panel also accepted an amendment proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO), which clarified that the definition of “exceeds authorized access” in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act does not include violations of Internet terms of service agreements or employment agreements restricting computer access, and a separate manager’s amendment which limited civil liability and penalties.

Continue Reading Senate Judiciary Committee Weighs Data Security Legislation

Your company has just launched an innovative new social media service, and you’ve received fanfare from the press, increased website traffic, and a spike in advertising revenues.  In short, the service is a complete success — until you’re served with a class action complaint seeking millions of dollars in damages and a civil investigative demand from the FTC.  What did you do wrong, and what can you do to get out of this mess?

That’s the question that I recently explored as a part of a panel at the summer meeting of the Virginia Bar Association on the benefits and risks of social media.  On the panel, we discussed the many ways that social media has influenced law and policy over the past few months and highlighted what businesses and their lawyers need to understand about privacy issues online in order to avoid litigation and regulatory enforcement.

One of the main reasons that companies face litigation and investigations in the social media area is that they haven’t fully evaluated the information that they are collecting through social media and how that information is (or could be) used.  That is why the discussion on privacy today is coalescing around the concept of “privacy by design,” which Kashmir Hill at Forbes recently described as companies “bak[ing] privacy into their products” rather than considering privacy only reactively.  (You can read more about privacy by design here.)

Continue Reading Social Media: Legal Risks and Rewards

Among the numerous federal privacy and data security bills that have been introduced in Congress over the last four months, Senator Franken’s “Location Privacy Protection Act” (S. 1223) focuses specifically on the collection of geolocation data by covered entities through mobile devices.  The bill would prohibit entities that offer or provide services to certain mobile devices from collecting and

This is another big week for privacy. On Monday, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller introduced the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011, which we posted about here. And yesterday, the newly created Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law held its first hearing.  The hearing focused on mobile privacy issues, but also touched on other important privacy-related matters, including reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and data security breaches. The following are highlights from the hearing:

  • Jessica Rich, Deputy Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, testified that the FTC has “a number of active investigations into privacy issues associated with mobile devices, including children’s privacy.”
  • Ms. Rich also noted that the draft Staff Report published by the FTC in December addresses mobile privacy issues in certain respects, including recommending that companies obtain affirmative express consent before collecting or sharing sensitive information such as precise geolocation data. In response to a question from Senator Al Franken, Ms. Rich explained that location data is especially sensitive because it often involves the data of children and teens and, when gathered over time, can be used to determine what church or political meetings a person attends and when and where a child walks to and from school. She also noted stalking concerns. Ms. Rich also expressed concerns that mobile users are even less likely than other online consumers to read detailed privacy screens, given the small screens of most mobile devices, but noted that the FTC Staff Report recommends clearer disclosures and simpler consent mechanisms. With respect to the status of the Staff Report, Ms. Rich’s written remarks indicate that FTC staff is analyzing the comments it received on its draft Staff Report and will take them into consideration in preparing a final report for release later this year.


Continue Reading Mobile Hearing Covers Mobile Privacy, ECPA Reform, and Data Breach Issues

As expected, this year is shaping up to be a busy year on privacy.  As we noted in an earlier post, many Congressional members on both sides of the aisle are focusing on privacy issues.  We still expect Senator Kerry to introduce comprehensive privacy legislation in the next few weeks and we understand Senator