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Digital Privacy Legislation is Civil Rights Legislation

EFF: “As Congress ponders legislation to reform “big tech,” it must view comprehensive digital privacy legislation as desperately needed civil rights legislation, because data abuses often disproportionately harm communities already bearing the brunt of other inequalities. Harvesting and monetizing personal data whenever anyone uses social media or even vital online services has become ubiquitous, yet it shouldn’t be accepted as normal or necessary. Corporate databases are vast, interconnected, and opaque, making the movement and use of our data difficult to understand or trace. Companies use it to reach inferences about us, leading to lost opportunities for employment, credit, and more. But those already marginalized lose even more in this predatory data ecosystem. Data is highly personal. Where we go online or in the real world, who and how we communicate with our communities, how and when we pay for things, our faces, our voices: All these data points represent aspects of individuals’ lives that should be protected. Even when our data supposedly is stripped of “personally identifying” characteristics, companies often can reassemble our data back into information that leads right to our doorsteps. Consider our phones and tablets — apps harvest our personal and behavioral information, which is subsequently purchased and sold by data brokers, businesses, and governments. A Muslim prayer app, for example, sold users’ geolocation data to a company which in turn gave it to defense contractors serving the U.S. military. It’s also harder for lower-income people to avoid corporate harvesting of their data. Some lower-cost technologies collect more data than more expensive options, such as cheaper smartphones with preinstalled apps that leak data and can’t be deleted. Some companies charge customers extra to avoid surveillance; AT&T once sought $29 per month from ISP customers to avoid tracking their browsing history. And some companies require customers to pay extra for basic security features that protect them from data theft, such as Twitter’s recent plan to charge $11 per month for two-factor authentication via SMS. Once collected, highly sensitive information about millions of people is up for sale. Despite laws against discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, and other protected characteristics — like the Fair Housing Act, for example — many corporations have used algorithms that send advertisements in these ways, targeting some vulnerable groups for disfavored treatment while excluding others from important opportunities. For example, seniors have been targeted with ads for investment scams by subprime lenders, while political ads have been targeted at minority ethnic groups in order to suppress votes…”

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