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After Buffalo, Media and Tech Can’t Look Away Any Longer

This tragedy should be a catalyst to a fundamental reckoning.
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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, 45 civil-rights, media-democracy and consumer-advocacy groups called on Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan to initiate a rulemaking to safeguard privacy, promote civil rights and set guardrails against the abuse of data online.

Discriminatory and abusive data practices are prevalent across the digital economy, the groups wrote in a letter submitted to Khan. “A rulemaking that addresses the entire life cycle of data—collection, use, management, retention, and deletion — will provide people with significant protection from discrimination and related data harms.”

Signers of the letter, which Free Press led, include Access Now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, Common Cause, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Matters for America, MediaJustice, Muslim Advocates, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, PEN America, Ranking Digital Rights and SumOfUs.

The letter and the full list of signers is available here.

Earlier this year, the FTC expressed interest in addressing the civil-rights impacts of unjust data practices. In September, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Connecticut) and eight other Democratic senators urged the agency to exercise its statutory rulemaking authority with the goal of safeguarding consumer data and providing “strong protections for the data of members of marginalized communities.”

“As people in the United States are learning more and more about how platforms are abusing their data, they should also know that the FTC has the authority to act right now to protect them,” said Carmen Scurato, associate legal director and senior counsel at Free Press. “Through a rulemaking process, the agency can build a record of the harms and put in place guardrails against discriminatory and dangerous data practices that disproportionately impact people of color. We’ve read enough stories about companies like Facebook that weaponize our data and put profits before our civil rights. Now the FTC must act.”

"This country faces a deepening crisis of data abuse and discrimination,” said John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But the FTC has the power to set industry-wide rules that will rein in exploitative data practices and protect privacy and civil rights. We join the president and members of Congress in urging the FTC to use that power as soon as possible.”

“The FTC has the expertise and the authority to materially improve the state of privacy in the United States,” said Sara Collins, policy counsel at Public Knowledge. “It has been holding workshops, writing reports, and providing testimony to Congress about privacy for years. It is time to use that knowledge to create baseline rules that protect all Americans. However, this does not preclude Congress from passing a strong privacy law. On the contrary, we hope that this process can inform congressional deliberations and create an even stronger record from which a comprehensive law can be built.”

“Despite exhaustive debate, the U.S. Congress has failed to protect our data and civil rights online,” said Willmary Escoto, U.S. policy analyst at Access Now. “The FTC can fill this void by passing robust rules covering everything from nondiscrimination to data minimization to surveillance advertising. It’s time for action.”

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