Senators express concern over data brokers selling personal location data related to abortion services and other family planning care
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect the data privacy of women seeking reproductive health care, following the Supreme Court’s leaked decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The senators expressed their concern over reports that data brokers are selling location data that allow purchasers to see how many people sought abortion services and other family planning care.
“We write to express serious concerns regarding recent reports identifying data brokers buying and selling location data that includes personal data related to family planning and abortion services,” the senators wrote to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan. “Recent reports highlight data brokers selling location data that allows the buyer to see how many people visit a certain location and when, including how many people are seeking care at reproductive health clinics such as Planned Parenthood.”
“In light of reports that the Supreme Court is set to overrule Roe vs. Wade, we are concerned about the privacy of women making decisions that should be between them, their families, and their doctors, as they have for more than five decades,” the senators continued. “We appreciate your efforts to highlight the critical need for increased consumer privacy and danger of open data to further victimization. However additional measures need to be taken to protect personal data and ensure the privacy of women as they make decisions that should be between them and their doctors.”
In addition to Klobuchar and Baldwin, the letter was also signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
As Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, Klobuchar has long led efforts to protect consumers’ privacy, especially with regards to online data privacy.
In 2019, she introduced the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Ed Markey (D-MA). This comprehensive federal online privacy legislation would guarantee privacy rights for consumers, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and establishes strict standards for the collection, use, sharing, and protection of consumer data.
Last October, in response to Texas’ restrictive abortion law that allows private citizens to sue women seeking abortion-related services, Klobuchar introduced legislation with Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to enhance federal penalties for stalkers who seek to obtain health care information or hope to prevent their target from making health care decisions.
Last August, Klobuchar, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) pressed Amazon to provide information about its biometric data collection practices.
Last May, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators John Kennedy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Richard Burr (R-NC) to safeguard consumers’ online data privacy. The Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act to enhance data privacy protections by ensuring companies give consumers control over how their personal data is being used.
In March 2021, Klobuchar and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called on the FTC to protect domestic violence survivors and victims’ online information. That February, she and Murkowski also introduced bipartisan legislation to protect consumers’ private health data on new health technologies such as wearable devices.
Klobuchar has also been a tireless champion for ensuring women’s access to reproductive health care. Last week, she took to the Senate floor to emphasize the importance of protecting women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions.
The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:
Dear Chair Khan,
We write to express serious concerns regarding recent reports identifying data brokers buying and selling location data that includes personal data related to family planning and abortion services. We respectfully request additional information on what steps the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking to ensure data brokers are not collecting, buying, or selling sensitive location data that put people, particularly those seeking medical attention, at risk.
We are concerned about online markets that sell and trade mobile phone location data. This data is often collected and sold by ordinary apps installed on a person’s smartphone, such as weather apps. The data is then bought and resold by data brokers. All of this information has historically been used to identify individuals. The estimated value of the location data market has been estimated at approximately $14 billion in 2021.
Recent reports highlight data brokers selling location data that allows the buyer to see how many people visit a certain location and when, including how many people are seeking care at reproductive health clinics such as Planned Parenthood. One report identified the purchase of data showing the number of people that visited over 600 Planned Parenthood locations in a week for just over $160.
In light of reports that the Supreme Court is set to overrule Roe vs. Wade, we are concerned about the privacy of women making decisions that should be between them, their families, and their doctors, as they have for more than five decades. Should the Court’s final decision match the leaked opinion, thirteen states could immediately ban abortion and over a dozen others are likely to criminalize it. Banning and criminalizing abortion in parts of our country could create added risks to those seeking family planning services in states where abortions remain legal.
We appreciate your efforts to highlight the critical need for increased consumer privacy and danger of open data to further victimization. However additional measures need to be taken to protect personal data and ensure the privacy of women as they make decisions that should be between them and their doctors.
We respectfully request that you respond to the following questions by June 1:
- What measures is the FTC taking to ensure individuals have the right to review and remove their information online, and assist them should their data be sold or they become victim to a breach? If so, please describe these measures.
- How does the FTC plan to address mobile phone apps that are developed to collect and sell the location data? How is the FTC educating individuals about how to identify apps that collect and sell their location data?
- What is the FTC doing to coordinate with the Department of Justice, states and localities, health care providers and private stakeholders to prevent data brokers and others from gaining access to the personal information of women and their healthcare decisions?
- Does the FTC need additional resources to better protect women from having their personal location data bought and disseminated by data brokers?
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to working with you to address this threat to privacy and safety.