Rep. Johnson (GA-04) Introduces Bills to Enhance Consumers’ Digital Privacy

July 26, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, today introduced two bills: the bipartisan Application Privacy, Protection and Security (APPS) Act of 2018 (H.R. 6547), a bill to increase consumer privacy on mobile devices, and the DATA Act of 2018 (H.R. 6548) that makes it easier for consumers to correct and opt out of big data collection and use. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed earlier this year, in which the data of 50 million users was collected and used for election purposes, showed consumers lack even basic protections for their private data online. Rep. Johnson’s bills deliver critical updates and modernization to our digital privacy laws.

“Privacy is an issue that should unite us, not drive us apart,” Johnson said. “We have fully entered the era of big data, and consumers access the Internet through mobile devices now more than ever. It’s past time our laws to reflect this reality through common-sense rules for data collection, transparency, and use.”

The APPS Act: Providing Transparency, Choice, and Control on Mobile Devices

Smart phones and apps have tremendous benefits that enrich consumers and society. The mobile economy is also one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and big data is commonly referred to as the new oil. But this rampant growth also presents novel and unique challenges. Mobile apps collect highly personal information like contact lists, photos, texts, location, and calendar items. These apps often access data like messages or contacts without consumer permission. 

The Pew Research Center has found that the vast majority of Americans want control over their personal information, but only 9 percent believe that they have this control.

“Every day, more companies are looking to mobile as the future of media,” Congressman Johnson noted, “Bridging the ‘digital divide’ means building protections into the technologies that we use, and to do that, we need privacy legislation that works for us, the consumer.”

The APPS Act will boost consumer privacy on mobile devices by requiring app developers to maintain privacy policies, obtain consent from consumers before collecting data, and securely maintain the data that they collect.  We all have the right to protect our personal information and companies must adopt responsible and transparent data use policies. Apps should provide consumers with notice and choice regarding how data is collected, shared, and used, and implement secure protection standards.    

A new study out this month by Kaspersky Lab shows the percentage of consumers who are now more concerned about the collection of their personal data is up sharply from 2016.  According to the study, more than 60 percent of consumers are “uncomfortable with sharing their location information with websites and applications – up from 39 percent in 2016. Furthermore, over half of people (56%) are very concerned that someone could see everything they do or watch on their device through an app. A similar percentage (50%) fear that someone could physically track them down using geolocation information from their device.”

The APPS Act would give consumers the tools needed to help protect their online privacy and grew out of Rep. Johnson’s APPRights initiative, a web-based legislative project launched in July 2012. This project opened a public conversation about how Congress can help ensure the privacy and security of mobile device users.  Amidst the growing clamor for federal action to safeguard consumers’ privacy and security, Congressman Johnson used this initiative as a genesis for the legislation and worked to keep Americans in the loop as he explored how federal law could better protect app users’ rights.

Rep. Johnson also worked closely with developers and stakeholders to ensure the APPS Act protects consumers without disrupting functionality or innovation through the APPS Act’s safe harbor provisions.


The Data Act: Empowering Consumers to Access, Correct, and Opt-Out of Big Data Collection and Use

Consumers are increasingly connected through smart devices, while data continues to drive business practices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently noted in a report that this is “the era of big data.”

Many have raised concerns, however, that this data may harm low-income and underserved communities, particularly minorities. As Wade Henderson, the President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted in 2014, “Big data has supercharged the potential for discrimination by corporations and the government in ways that victims don’t even see.” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez has likewise observed that “the same analytic power that makes it easier to predict the outbreak of a virus, identify who is likely to suffer a heart attack, or improve the delivery of social services, also has the capacity to reinforce disadvantages faced by low-income and underserved communities,” including price and customer service discrimination.

With these concerns in mind, it is critical that consumers -- particularly low-income and minority populations -- have access to the troves of data collected about them, the ability to correct false information, and the right opt-out of data collection for marketing purposes.

“Consumers should have access to the volumes of personal data collected about them,” said Johnson,” “And more importantly, we should all be able to correct false information before losing access to potential employment, insurance, housing, or credit opportunities.”

The Data Act would bring big data out of the shadows, create transparency and control for consumers over their personal data, and provide consumers with the tools to correct the record and minimize collection.


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