June 15, 2022

Warren, Wyden, Murray, Whitehouse, Sanders Introduce Legislation to Ban Data Brokers from Selling Americans' Location and Health Data

With the Extremist Supreme Court Poised to Overturn Roe v. Wade, the Need to Protect Location and Health Data is More Crucial than Ever 

Data Privacy Expert: Health and Location Data Protection Act “Would fill one of the largest protection gaps in U.S. privacy law”

Bill Text (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act, legislation that bans data brokers from selling some of the most sensitive data available about everyday Americans: their health and location data. The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. 

“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people, posing serious risks to Americans everywhere by selling their most private information,” said Senator Warren. “With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive data. The Health and Location Data Protection Act will ban brokers from selling Americans’ location and health data, rein in giant data brokers, and set some long overdue rules of the road for this $200 billion industry.”

“When abortion is illegal, researching reproductive health care online, updating a period-tracking app, or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office all could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S. It amounts to uterus surveillance. Congress must protect Americans’ privacy from abuse by far-right politicians who want to control women’s bodies. I’m proud to work with Senator Warren to introduce the Health and Location Data Protection Act,” said Senator Wyden.

“As extremist Republican lawmakers work around the clock to criminalize essential health services — including abortion — patients’ private health and location data must be protected,” said Senator Murray. “Selling people’s most sensitive data to turn a profit isn’t just wrong — it’s dangerous, and risks Americans’ safety as they seek the care they need. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Health and Location Data Protection Act to protect people’s sensitive health data — particularly as Republicans attack all of our reproductive rights."

“Americans ought to feel confident that their highly sensitive data isn’t hocked to the highest bidder without their consent. We need sensible rules for the handling of personal health and location data, especially in light of recent efforts to ban or even criminalize abortion care and other important health care,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m pleased to join Sen. Warren in introducing this important bill.”

Data brokers collect and sell intensely personal data from millions of Americans, often without their consent or knowledge, reaping massive profits. Largely unregulated by federal law, the unsavory business practices of data brokers pose real dangers to Americans everywhere. Data gathered by brokers has been used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment, out LGBTQ+ people, stalk and harass individuals, and jeopardize the safety of people who visit abortion clinics for health care

The Health and Location Data Protection Act would: 

  • Ban data brokers from selling or transferring location data and health data and require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to promulgate rules to implement the law within 180 days, while making exceptions for HIPAA-compliant activities, protected First Amendment speech, and validly authorized disclosures.
  • Ensure robust enforcement of the bill’s provisions by empowering the FTC, state attorneys general, and injured persons to sue to enforce the provisions of the law.
  • Provide $1 billion in funding to the Federal Trade Commission over the next decade to carry out its work, including the enforcement of this law.

The legislation is endorsed by a wide range of data and sexual privacy experts, including experts from Duke University, University of Virginia, and Washington University in St. Louis. 

“Health and location data are incredibly sensitive and can be used for a range of harms, from profiling and exploiting consumers to spying on citizens without warrants to carrying out stalking and violence. Companies should not be allowed to freely buy and sell Americans’ health and location data, on the open market, with virtually no restrictions. Imposing strong legal and regulatory controls on this dangerous practice is vital to protecting the privacy of every American—particularly women, the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, the poor, and other vulnerable communities,” said Justin Sherman, Fellow and Research Lead, Data Brokerage Project, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy.

“This bill provides crucial protection to the privacy of our intimate lives. Our health and location information should not be sold or shared but rather treated with utmost care. It paints a detailed picture of our close relationships, health conditions, doctor visits, and other aspects of our intimate lives for which we expect and deserve privacy. This bill includes strong and clear rules against the sharing of health and location data and civil penalties and injunctive relief to back them up,” said Danielle Citron, Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenck Distinguished Professor in Law and Caddell and Chapman Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law & Vice President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

“I am happy to endorse Senator Warren’s Health and Location Data Protection Act,” said Neil Richards, Koch Distinguished Professor in Law and Director of the Cordell Institute, Washington University in St. Louis. “For far too long, shadowy networks of data brokers have engaged in an unregulated and unethical trade in our sensitive data for their own profit. This bill would offer significant protections for everyone in our society at a time when the privacy of our health and our location data is becoming ever-more important to our ability to live our lives without fear of betrayal, manipulation, or coercion. The HLDPA would be a significant step in restoring the balance of power between humans and the corporations who trade in their data for profit.”

“By sharing people’s sensitive and personal information, data brokers fuel harmful surveillance and endanger the most vulnerable members of our society. The Health and Location Data Protection Act would finally begin to rein in these invasive business practices, offering people long-overdue protection from this notoriously unregulated and reckless industry,” said Thomas Kadri, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia School of Law.

“This is an important bill that will protect digital privacy, and at an especially sensitive time when location data may be used to track those seeking reproductive health services after the Supreme Court decides the Dobbs case,” said Elizabeth E. Joh, Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law.

“People’s health and location data leaves them remarkably vulnerable. It can reveal the most intimate aspects of their lives and also opens them up to pervasive tracking, harassment, wrongful discrimination, financial loss, and physical injury. Yet data brokers remain free to sell and share this data in ways that lead to harm and abuse,” said Woodrow Hartzog, Professor of Law and Computer Science, Northeastern University. “The Health and Location Data Act of 2022 is a desperately needed intervention that would impose substantive limits on the ability of data brokers to trade on our vulnerabilities. This bill wisely avoids ineffective ‘notice and choice’ approaches and instead draws clear lines prohibiting selling and sharing of our most sensitive data. It would fill one of the largest protection gaps in U.S. privacy law.”

As the right to abortion and basic health care is under attack by the Supreme Court and Republican extremists across the country, Senator Warren has worked to protect the right to an abortion and protect the sensitive data of all Americans.

  • On June 7, 2022, Senators Warren and Murray led 23 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing the federal government to develop a national plan to defend Americans’ fundamental reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion.
  • On May 18, 2022, Senators Warren, Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Protecting Military Service Members’ Data Act of 2022 to protect the data of U.S. service members by preventing data brokers from selling lists of military personnel to adversarial nations including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
  • On May 17, 2022, Senator Warren led thirteen of her Senate colleagues in letters to two data brokers demanding answers regarding their collection and sale of the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood. 
  • On May 10, 2022, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate on the need to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and fight back against Republican extremism. 
  • On May 9, 2022, Senator Warren wrote an op-ed in Marie Claire about the importance of enshrining the right to an abortion in federal law. 
  • On May 3, 2022, when the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, Senator Warren spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court twice to activists, protestors, and the nation about the need to protect abortion rights.