Bill Seeks to Ban Data Brokers from Selling Health and Location Data

A new bill has been introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that seeks to ban data brokers from selling the health and location data of Americans. The bill, The Health and Location Data Protection Act, was co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); and Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people, posing serious risks to Americans everywhere by selling their most private information,” said Senator Warren. “With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data.”

Currently, data brokers are largely unregulated by federal law, yet they are collecting highly sensitive data from Americans, including their location. That information is gathered from a huge range of mobile apps and, in many cases, the data is collected without express user consent. That information is then sold for profit to virtually anyone willing to pay the price. That information has been used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment and stalk and harass individuals. In some cases, data brokers have been discovered to be selling cellphone-based location data of people visiting abortion clinics, which has placed the safety of women at risk who are seeking healthcare.

If passed, the Health and Location Data Protection Act will ban data brokers from selling or transferring the location and health data of Americans to rein in giant data brokers and implement long-overdue rules for this $200 billion industry. The bill calls for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue rules to implement the new law within 180 days and will empower the FTC, state attorneys general, and injured persons to sue data brokers to enforce the provisions of the law.  The bill will also ensure that the FTC is given $1 billion in funding over the next decade to ensure it can carry out its work and can enforce the law. The law will include exceptions for HIPAA-compliant activities, protected First Amendment speech, and validly authorized disclosures.

“When abortion is illegal, researching reproductive health care online, updating a period-tracking app, or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office all could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S. It amounts to uterus surveillance. Congress must protect Americans’ privacy from abuse by far-right politicians who want to control women’s bodies. I’m proud to work with Senator Warren to introduce the Health and Location Data Protection Act,” said Sen Wyden.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.