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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, nearly 50 consumer-advocacy, media-justice and privacy-rights groups, including the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, Demand Progress and Free Press Action, called on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to conduct hearings on the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act.

The bipartisan legislation would stop the harmful and unconstitutional sales of personal information to government authorities without a legal warrant. Data merchants frequently sell to intelligence and law enforcement agencies the data of tens of millions of people in the United States, claiming that federal statutes don’t specifically prohibit the use of digital apps and brokers.

“As a result, data from apps most Americans routinely use are open to warrantless examination by the government,” reads the letter the groups sent to Democratic and Republican committee leadership. “We believe hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Judiciary Committee in early 2022 — underscoring these disturbing facts and perhaps uncovering new ones — would inform the American public and create the momentum needed to turn your bill into law.”

The Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act, introduced in 2021, would close the legal loophole and prevent intelligence agencies from using private data purchases to circumvent the legal regime Congress put in place to prevent mass surveillance of people in the United States.

“There is no clause in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that says warrants are needed to search and seize our personal effects, except when government decides to buy them,” said former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte, who now is a senior policy advisor for the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability. “And yet that’s what intelligence and law enforcement agencies are doing — buying our most sensitive and personal information from data brokers. We need a hearing to reveal to Congress and the American people the extent to which our information is being accessed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies at will.”

“The Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement protects not only our privacy, but our freedoms of association, religion and belief,” said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice. “The government should not be able to buy its way around these fundamental rights. We call on the leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to hold hearings to expose the government’s activities and advance legislative solutions, such as the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act.”

“There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently under the Fourth Amendment,” said Free Press Action’s Nora Benavidez. “The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act closes that legal loophole and ensures that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can’t do an end run around the Constitution to get to your data. Enacting this legislation would stop this flagrant abuse of our privacy and shut down a clandestine business sector that trades away our essential rights for profit.”

“Data brokers are exploiting a loophole to sell sensitive information to the government, including information protected by the Fourth Amendment, in massive quantities,” said Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress. “This is an outrageous violation of the spirit and letter of the law, and it demands urgent action by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Failure to act is unconscionable: The longer Congress waits, the stronger and more dangerous this industry will become."

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