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Sens. Franken Introduces Bill to Protect Consumer Privacy on Mobile Devices

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation that would require companies like Apple and Google, as well as app developers to receive express consent from users of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets before sharing information about those users’ location with third parties. The bill, called the Location Privacy Protection Act, would close current loopholes in federal law to ensure that consumers know what location information is being collected about them and allow them to decide if they want to share it.

“After listening to expert testimony at the hearing I chaired last month on mobile technology and privacy and hearing from anti-domestic violence groups in Minnesota who said this kind of technology can be exploited by abusers, I concluded that our laws do too little to protect information on our mobile devices,” said Sen. Franken. “Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we're in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world. This legislation would give people the right to know what geolocation data is being collected about them and ensure they give their consent before it’s shared with others.”

The bill is endorsed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Center for Victims of Crime, National Consumers League, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.

To read a one-page summary of the legislation, click here.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

Protecting Minnesotans' and Americans' consumer rights and privacy has been a priority for Sen. Franken since he came to the Senate. In May, Sen. Franken held a roundtable in Eagan, Minnesota, with anti-domestic violence experts and law enforcement officials at a shelter where he heard how tracking technologies can jeopardize the safety and privacy of mobile-device users. Sen. Franken also held the first hearing of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law called Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy during which he heard from representatives from Apple and Google, officials from the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, and technology experts. 

Prior to the hearing, Sen. Franken sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking him to address privacy concerns about the company's iOS 4 operating system, which security researchers found secretly stored detailed information about users' locations on their iPhones, iPads, and any computers to which the devices are synched.
Last year, Sen. Franken pressed Attorney General Eric Holder to incorporate an analysis of geotags—information about a person's location that is embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones—into an updated stalking victimization study connected to the National Crime Victimization Survey. This March, Sen. Franken also led several of his Senate colleagues in urging Facebook to stop plans that would have permitted third party application providers to access users' home addresses and phone numbers. In April, he asked the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify its interpretation of a critical federal law that protects personal data after a security breach at Epsilon Data Management and allegations that several popular smartphone applications were gathering and disclosing users' private information without their knowledge or consent.

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