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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, House co-sponsors of the American Privacy Rights Act (APRA) reportedly will announce a hearing on Thursday to mark up the legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee. A discussion draft of APRA was first released in April.

The most recent draft no longer includes critical civil-rights protections that are needed to ensure that even when companies collect information for a necessary purpose, they are not allowed to use it to discriminate against individuals and communities.  

The co-sponsors of this latest version of APRA, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, struck language that explicitly prohibited such data-driven discrimination and that required AI-impact assessments. The new draft also introduces a broad exemption for “on-device” data even as more and more devices, from watches to cars, collect information on their users. Also on Tuesday, in response to these bill changes, a coalition of civil- and privacy-rights groups called on committee leadership to postpone the hearing and to restore these provisions.

Free Press Action opposes APRA as currently written, and calls on members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to oppose the legislation unless its sponsors restore these vital civil-rights provisions and strengthen other privacy protections.

Free Press Action VP of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:

“Rampant, virtually unchecked harvesting of personal data enables and exacerbates discrimination against people on the basis of race, gender, immigration status, medical conditions and more. This data-driven discrimination will only pose greater risks as companies and governments increasingly adopt algorithmic decision-making tools, particularly given the recent rush to both develop and adopt AI products.

“Free Press Action has long called for and supported efforts to advance comprehensive federal privacy legislation. We’re overdue for enforceable federal protections against the extraction and exploitation of our personal data for profit, as well as the use of our data to target and discriminate against specific individuals and communities. But this latest version of APRA is the wrong approach.

“APRA contains important measures to minimize the collection, transfer and sale of personal data, including highly sensitive biometric and genetic information. But removing anti-discrimination provisions — as well as people’s ability to opt out of algorithmic decision-making implicating their access to critical services such as housing, health care or education — is unacceptable. It’s not good enough today, and it would create a bad precedent for privacy legislation going forward at both the state and federal levels.

“It’s worrying to see members of Congress back away from key civil-rights provisions in an attempt to appease extremists who oppose these safeguards. Congress must restore this essential language to the bill so that we can have privacy legislation that protects everyone from discrimination.”

Background: A national poll that the African American Research Collaborative and BSP Research conducted for Free Press found that 78 percent of Americans are concerned that technology companies will sell their personal information to marketing companies. The poll found that 76 percent are concerned that foreign countries are collecting their personal information. In addition, 37 percent of all poll respondents said they had received a letter from a company informing them that their data had been stolen.

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