Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and Consumer Groups Urge Congress to Protect Marginalized Communities from Discriminatory Privacy Abuses

Today, Open MIC joined 25 other civil society organizations in sending a letter to Congress calling on legislators to ensure that any federal privacy legislation addresses the discriminatory impacts of commercial data practices and protects people of color, women, religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities, persons living on low income, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.

“Personal data are the raw materials that fuel discrimination,” the groups told Congress. “For too long, corporations have ignored the digital pollution that their commercial data practices generate; they must be held accountable for the negative externalities of their business models.”

The exploitation of personal information disproportionately harms marginalized communities. The letter provides extensive documentation of the ways in which privacy abuses enable voter suppression, digital redlining, discriminatory policing, retail discrimination, digital inequity, amplification of white supremacy, identity theft, and the endangerment of personal safety.

To help address these harms, empower consumers, and promote equal opportunity for all in the modern public square and marketplace, the groups urge Congress to pass comprehensive privacy reforms that include the following provisions:

1) Prohibit the use of personal data to discriminate in employment, housing, credit, education, or insurance—either directly or by disparate impact.

2) Prohibit the use of personal data to discriminate in public accommodations and extend such protections to businesses that offer goods or services online.

3) Prohibit the use of personal data to engage in deceptive voter suppression.

4) Require companies to audit their data processing practices for bias and privacy risks.

5) Require robust transparency at two tiers: easy-to-understand privacy notices for consumers, and comprehensive annual privacy reports for researchers and regulators.

6) Enable researchers to independently test and audit platforms for discrimination.

7) Empower a federal agency with rulemaking authority, enforcement powers, and enough resources to address current and future discriminatory practices.

8) Provide individual rights to access, correct, and delete one’s personal data and inferences made using that data.

9) Provide a private right of action, because marginalized communities historically have not been able to rely upon the government to protect their interests.

10) Establish baseline nationwide protections and allow states to enact stricter laws. Do not preempt state civil rights laws under any circumstances.

Read the full letter here.

The letter was signed by the following organizations:

Access Now
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Media Justice
Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law
Color of Change
Common Cause
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Demand Progress Education Fund
Free Press Action
Human Rights Campaign
Impact Fund
Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Urban League
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative)
Public Citizen
Public Justice Center
Public Knowledge
Southern Poverty Law Center
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
United Church of Christ, OC Inc.