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Senate bill would ban data brokers from selling location and health data

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) speak outside during a press conference.
Enlarge / Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) hold a press conference about abortion rights outside the US Capitol building on June 15 in Washington, DC.

Getty Images | Joe Raedle

A bill introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would prohibit data brokers from selling Americans’ location and health data, Warren’s office said Wednesday.

“Largely unregulated by federal law, data brokers gather intensely personal data such as location data from seemingly innocuous sources including weather apps and prayer apps—oftentimes without the consumer’s consent or knowledge,” a bill summary said. “Then, brokers turn around and sell the data in bulk to virtually any willing buyer, reaping massive profits.”

Citing the draft Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Warren said “it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data.”

Warren’s bill summary said the proposed Health and Location Data Protection Act “forbids data brokers from selling or transferring location data and health data and requires the Federal Trade Commission to promulgate rules to implement the law within 180 days, while making exceptions for HIPAA-compliant activities, protected First Amendment speech, and validly authorized disclosures.” The legislation defines “data broker” as anyone “that collects, buys, licenses, or infers data about individuals and then sells, licenses, or trades that data.”

Mobile carriers illegally sold location data

Data sales are already illegal in some cases. In 2020, after the major wireless carriers T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint were caught selling their customers’ real-time location data to third-party data brokers without user consent, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed fines totaling $208 million.

Warren’s bill would allow the FTC, state attorneys general, and anyone affected by location and health data sales to file lawsuits seeking financial damages and injunctions. The proposal would also give the FTC extra funding of $1 billion.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Separately, more than 40 Democratic members of Congress last month called on Google to stop collecting and retaining customer location data that prosecutors could use to identify women who obtain abortions.

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