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On August 15, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra delivered remarks at the White House Roundtable on the harms of data broker practices. Referencing the prevalence of artificial intelligence in data surveillance, Chopra highlighted a common practice employed by companies: the gathering, leveraging, and sharing of data concerning consumers, including individual pieces of data or consumer profiles, without consumers’ awareness with third parties that employ AI to formulate forecasts and decisions. These detailed data sets can also easily be exploited by bad actors, Chopra warned. Chopra announced that after conducting an inquiry into data broker practices, the Bureau will endeavor to make rules regulating data broker surveillance to ensure sensitive data is not misused and on par with FCRA requirements.
Two proposals are being considered: the first proposal would define the term “consumer reporting agency” to include a data broker that sells certain types of consumer data, thereby triggering requirements to ensure accuracy and to govern disputes concerning the reporting of inaccurate information. The second proposal will address existing confusion by clarifying the existing confusion concerning “the extent to which credit header data constitutes a consumer report, [and] reducing the ability of credit reporting companies to impermissibly disclose sensitive contact information that can be used to identify people who don’t wish to be contacted, such as domestic violence survivors.” The rulemaking will also complement efforts put forth by the FTC.
On July 27, the governor of Oregon signed HB 2052 (the “Act”) into law, effective upon passage. The Act provides that a “data broker” cannot collect, sell or license brokered personal data within Oregon unless they first register with the Department of Consumer and Business Services. Brokered personal data includes, among other things, name (or the name of a member of the individual’s immediate family or household), data or place of birth, maiden name of the individual’s mother, biometric information, social security or other government-issued identification number, or other information that can “reasonably be associated” with the individual. A data broker does not include consumer reporting agencies, financial institutions, and affiliates or nonaffiliated third parties of financial institutions that are subject to Title V of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, among others. There are certain exceptions to the requirement, including, among others, selling the assets of a business entity a single time, The Act stipulates a civil penalty in an amount less than or equal to $500 for each violation of Act or for each day in which violation continues. Civil money penalties are capped at $10,000 per calendar year.
The Texas governor recently signed SB 2105 (the “Act”) to regulate data brokers operating in the state. The Act defines a “data broker” as “a business entity whose principal source of revenue is derived from the collecting, processing, or transferring of personal data that the entity did not collect directly from the individual linked or linkable to the data.” The Act’s provisions apply to data brokers that derive, in a 12-month period, (i) more than 50 percent of their revenue from processing or transferring personal data, or (ii) revenue from processing or transferring the personal data of more than 50,000 individuals, that was not collected directly from the individuals to whom the data pertains. Among other things, the Act requires covered entities to post conspicuous notices on websites or mobile applications disclosing that they are a data broker. Data brokers must also register annually with the secretary of state and pay required fees. Additionally, data brokers must implement a comprehensive information security program to protect personal data under their control and conduct ongoing employee and contractor education and training. Data brokers are required to take measures to ensure third-party service providers maintain appropriate security measures as well.
The Act does not apply to deidentified data (provided certain conditions are met), employee data, publicly available information, inferences that do not reveal sensitive data that is derived from multiple independent sources of publicly available information, and data subject to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Additionally, the Act does not apply to service providers that process employee data for a third-party employer, persons or entities that collect personal data from another person or entity to which they are related by common ownership or control where it is assumed a reasonable consumer would expect the data to be shared, governmental entities, nonprofits, consumer reporting agencies, and financial institutions.
The Texas attorney general has authority to bring an action against a data broker that violates the Act and impose a civil penalty in an amount not less than the total of “$100 for each day the entity is in violation,” as well as the amount of unpaid registration fees for each year an entity fails to register. Penalties may not exceed $10,000 in a 12-month period. By December 1, the secretary of state is required to promulgate rules necessary to implement the Act. The Act is effective September 1.
On June 20, the CFPB released a statement announcing it will be “embarking on an inquiry into the data broker industry and issues raised by new technological developments.” The Bureau requested information in March about entities that purchase information from data brokers, the negative impacts of data broker practices, and the issues consumers face when they wish to see or correct their personal information. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The findings from this inquiry will help the Bureau understand how employees’ personal information can find its way into the data broker market.
With similar intentions, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a request for information (RFI) to learn more about the automated tools employers use to monitor, screen, surveil, and manage their employees. The OSTP blog post cited to an increase in the use of technologies that handle employees’ sensitive information and data. The OSTP also highlighted the Biden administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights (covered by InfoBytes here), which underscored the importance of building in protections when developing new technologies and understanding associated risks. Responses to the RFI will be used to “inform new policy responses, share relevant research, data, and findings with the public, and amplify best practices among employers, worker organizations, technology vendors, developers, and others in civil society,” the OSTP said.
The CFPB’s response to the RFI described the agency’s concerns regarding risks to employees’ privacy, noting that it has long received complaints from the public about the lack of transparency and inaccuracies in the employment screening industry. Specifically mentioned are FCRA protections for consumers and guidelines around the sale of personal data. The Bureau also commented that employees may not be at liberty to determine how their information is used, or sold, and have no opportunity for recourse when inaccurately reported information affects their earnings, access to credit, ability to rent a home or buy a car, and more.
On May 4, the U.S. District Court for the District of Ohio issued two separate rulings in a pair of related disputes between the FTC and a data broker. The disputes center around accusations made by the FTC last August that the data broker violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by unfairly selling precise geolocation data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices which can be used to trace individuals’ movements to and from sensitive locations (covered by InfoBytes here). The FTC sought a permanent injunction to stop the data broker’s practices, as well as additional relief. The data broker, upon learning that the FTC planned to filed a lawsuit against it, filed a preemptive lawsuit challenging the agency’s authority.
The court first dismissed the data broker’s preemptive bid to block the FTC’s enforcement action, ruling that the data broker has not identified any “viable cause of action” to support its request for injunctive relief. The court explained that injunctive relief is a “drastic remedy” that is only available if no other legal remedy is available. However, the data broker possesses an “adequate remedy at law,” the court said, “because it can seek dismissal of, and otherwise directly defend against, the FTC’s enforcement action.”
With respect to the FTC’s action, the court granted the data broker’s motion to dismiss the FTC’s complaint, but gave the agency leave to amend. The court agreed with the data broker that the FTC’s complaint lacks sufficient allegations to support its unfairness claim under Section 5 of the FTC Act. While the court disagreed with the data broker’s assertion that it did not have “fair notice that its sale of geolocation data without restrictions near sensitive locations could violate Section 5(a) of the FTC Act” or that the FTC had to allege a predicate violation of law or policy to state a claim, the court determined that the FTC failed to adequately allege that the data broker’s practices created “a ‘significant risk’ of concrete harm.” Moreover, the court found that “the purported privacy intrusion is not severe enough to constitute ‘substantial injury’ under Section 5(n).” The court noted, however that some of the deficiencies may be cured through additional factual allegations in an amended complaint.
On March 15, the CFPB issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on data broker business practices in order to inform planned rulemaking under the FCRA and help the agency understand the current state of the industry. “Modern data surveillance practices have allowed companies to hover over our digital lives and monetize our most sensitive data,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in the announcement. He added, “[o]ur inquiry will inform whether rules under the [FCRA] reflect these market realities.” The Bureau explained that the FCRA—which covers data brokers such as credit reporting companies and background screening firms, as well as parties who report information to these firms—provides several protections, including accuracy standards, dispute rights, and restrictions on how data can be used. The RFI seeks feedback on business models and practices used by the data broker market, including information about the types of data being collected and sold and the sources data brokers rely upon. In particular, the Bureau seeks information on consumer harm and market abuses, and wants to understand “whether companies using these new business models are covered by the FCRA, given the FCRA’s broad definitions of ‘consumer report’ and ‘consumer reporting agency.’” The Bureau stated it is also interested in learning about consumers’ direct experiences with data brokers, including when consumers try to remove, correct, or regain control of their data. Comments on the RFI are due by June 13.
On August 29, the FTC announced an action taken against a data broker accused of allegedly selling precise geolocation data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that can be used to trace individuals’ movements to and from sensitive locations. According to the complaint, the defendant purchases location information from other data brokers and packages it into customized data feeds that match unique mobile device advertising identification numbers with timestamped latitude and longitude locations. These data feeds allow purchasers to identify and track specific mobile device users with no restrictions on usage and puts consumers at significant risk, the FTC claimed, noting that by failing to adequately protect its data from public exposure, consumers may be identified and face substantial injury. Moreover, people are often unaware that their location data is being purchased and shared by the defendant and have no control over its sale or use, the FTC said in its announcement. The complaint alleges the defendant’s unfair sale of sensitive data violates the FTC Act, and seeks a permanent injunction and any additional relief deemed just and proper.
On August 16, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security Bennie Thompson (D-MS) sent a letter to multiple government agency leaders, requesting information on their purchases and use of personal data from data brokers. According to the chairmen, “[c]ompanies participating in the data market acquire user information for package and sale through social media, mobile applications, web hosts, and other sources,” and such products “can include precise details on individuals’ location history, internet activity, and utilities information, to name a few.” The letter further noted that, “improper government acquisition of this data can thwart statutory and constitutional protections designed to protect Americans’ due process rights.” The letter also pointed out that the agencies receiving the letter “have contracts with numerous data brokers, who provide detailed information on millions of Americans.” The chairmen requested a briefing from the agencies, in addition to documents and communications related to contracts the government has had with data brokers, legal analyses on the use of personal data, and parameters and limitations set on the use of the data by the end of August.
On June 2, the Nevada governor signed SB 260, which revises certain provisions under the state’s existing privacy law. Among other things, the act (i) adds “data broker” to the existing privacy framework; (ii) exempts certain persons and information collected about a consumer in the state from requirements imposed on operators, data brokers, and covered information, including consumer reporting agencies, personally identifying information regulated by the FCRA or the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, information collected for the purposes of fraud information, publicly available information, and financial institutions; (iii) prohibits a data broker from selling covered information collected about a consumer in the state if so directed by the consumer, and revises provisions related to the sale of certain covered information about a consumer; (iv) requires data brokers to respond to a consumer’s verified request within 60 days after receipt (a data broker may extend this period by no more than 30 days if an extension is determined to be reasonably necessary); (v) provides data brokers and operators 30 days to remedy violations of the opt-out requirement (provided they have not previously failed to comply with the opt-out requirements); and (vi) updates the definition of “sale” to include “the exchange of covered information for monetary consideration by an operator or data broker to another person.” While existing law already provides the Nevada attorney general with the authority to seek injunctive relief and impose civil penalties of no more than $5,000 per violation, the act extends this authority to cover data brokers. Additionally, the act explicitly does not provide for a private right of action against operators. The act takes effect October 1.
On May 22, a Vermont bill, established to regulate data brokers and provide consumers with protections against companies that collect, analyze, and sell their personal information, was enacted without the governor’s signature. Among other things, H.764: (i) requires data brokers to pay a $100 fee to register annually with the Vermont Secretary of State and publicly disclose information about data collection practices and opt-out policies; (ii) requires companies to implement measures to ensure they have “adequate security standards” to safeguard against data breaches; (iii) prohibits the “acquisition of personal information with the intent to commit wrongful acts”; and (iv) prohibits credit reporting agencies from charging consumers fees for the placement, removal, or temporary lift of a security freeze. The credit freeze provisions became effective upon passage. The data broker provisions take effect January 1, 2019.