US Senators hope to crack down on the trade of private information

Bill would allow Americans to edit and block collected data

Four US senators are introducing legislation aimed at turning the screws on businesses that gather up and sell citizens' personal information.

Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN) have teamed up to introduce the Data-broker Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) [PDF], which will let Americans correct and remove their private details from databases.

If the bill makes it into law, so-called data brokers can be forced to stop selling a person's information, and they would be forbidden from using deceptive practices to gather data on people. Additionally, brokers would be required to give users access to their information, and allow them to update or correct sensitive records.

The bill covers information from ages and marital statuses to hobbies, jobs, ailments, and much more: details that companies can legally collect and sell to others. Publicly available information, such as names and addresses, can only be updated if the original source corrects the data.

A data broker is defined as:

A commercial entity that collects, assembles, or maintains personal information concerning an individual who is not a customer or an employee of that entity in order to sell the information or provide third-party access to the information.

So picture marketing giants that are fed information by shops and websites, and then use that to target specific adverts to people.

"The era of data keepers has given way to an era of data reapers. We need to shed light on this ‘shadow’ industry of surreptitious data collection that has amassed covert dossiers on hundreds of millions of Americans," Markey said in announcing the bill.

"This legislation ensures that data brokers cannot take advantage of the most valuable possessions that consumers have: their personal information."

Additionally, the bill would allow US watchdog the FTC to enforce the provisions of the (proposed) law and create a central website where users can look up the information collected on them by data brokers.

The last part is something that will be welcome news to the FTC. Last summer, the commission asked Congress to crack down on data brokers with stricter laws on the collection and selling of personal information.

The bill, S. 668, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for further approval. ®

Sponsored: Beyond the Data Frontier

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