Bill Would Force Intelligence, Law Enforcement to Obtain Warrants Before Buying Americans’ Data

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As with other tech companies, agencies would have to obtain court orders to compel data brokers to turn over information.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. And Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act Wednesday in an effort to curb certain federal agencies from purchasing Americans’ data without court oversight.

The legislation, which was also introduced in the House Wednesday by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., would require agencies to obtain a court order to compel data brokers to provide information. The legislation would require the same judiciary oversight mechanisms for data brokers as are currently required for tech, phone and broadband companies.

“Doing business online doesn’t amount to giving the government permission to track your every movement or rifle through the most personal details of your life,” Wyden said in a statement. “There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider. This bill closes that legal loophole and ensures that the government can’t use its credit card to end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

The legislation follows several reports of privacy overreach by federal agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency’s warrantless use of Americans’ location data, the IRS’ warrantless acquisition of cell phone data to track suspected tax fraudsters and Homeland Security’s use of commercial databases without warrants.

The bill has bipartisan support from at least 18 senators thus far.

“The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure ensures that the liberty of every American cannot be violated on the whims, or financial transactions, of every government officer,” Paul said in a statement. “This critical legislation will put an end to the government’s practice of buying its way around the Bill of Rights by purchasing the personal and location data of everyday Americans.”

If enacted, the legislation would also restrict intelligence and law enforcement agencies from buying data on people residing within the U.S. or American abroad—if the data was obtained from a user’s device or via deception, such as hacking or violations of terms of service. The bill would prevent the government from purchasing data from Clearview.AI, a facial-recognition tech startup that drawn criticism from lawmakers for its practices. The bill further ensures intelligence agencies work within the confines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to acquire data on Americans and would require FISA Court review to buy or acquire metadata about Americans’ international calls, texts or emails aboard. 

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