Civil Rights Coalition Urges Congress to Protect Marginalized Communities in Privacy Debate

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Today, Public Knowledge joined 43 other public interest, civil rights, racial justice, and consumer groups in a letter urging Congress to prioritize civil rights concerns when developing consumer privacy legislation. In the letter, Public Knowledge and other organizations argue that anti-discrimination principles need to be extended to the online economy in order to protect marginalized communities, especially communities of color. Public Knowledge contends that private sector data practices can jeopardize civil rights, but consumer privacy protections can help mitigate these harms.

The following is an excerpt from the letter:

“For over 50 years, federal law has prohibited discrimination and our economy has thrived as more people had opportunities to pursue their dreams. Our groups have been at the forefront of ensuring that civil and human rights, equity, and equal opportunity are recognized and respected as technology, society, and the economy evolve. To further that effort, many of the undersigned organizations supported the Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data in 2014.

“In the years since 2014, our groups have continued to raise the alarm as data security and privacy abuses have disproportionately harmed marginalized communities, especially communities of color. These harmful practices include:

  • Deceptive voter suppression and misinformation targeting African Americans.
  • Housing discrimination and digital redlining.
  • Employment discrimination through profiling and targeted advertising.
  • Predatory lending, such as for student loans and payday loans.
  • Exploitation of poor tech literacy through misleading notice and choice practices.
  • Facilitation of discriminatory government surveillance and policing practices.

“These practices violate the Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data, which underscore the importance of ensuring fairness in automated decisions, enhancing individual control of personal information, and protecting people from inaccurate data.

“Civil rights protections have existed in brick-and-mortar commerce for decades. It is time to ensure they apply to the internet economy as well. Platforms and other online services should not be permitted to use consumer data to discriminate against protected classes or deny them opportunities in commerce, housing, and employment, or full participation in our democracy. Companies also should be required to be transparent about their collection and use of personal information in automated decisionmaking, and to anticipate and protect against discriminatory uses and disparate impacts of big data.”

The following can be attributed to Alisa Valentin, Communications Justice Fellow at Public Knowledge:

“Far too often we have seen platforms and online services discriminate against people of color and other marginalized groups in various facets of their lives. In order to create and sustain an equitable society in the digital age, it is imperative that civil rights protections are incorporated into comprehensive privacy legislation.

“The Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data lays the foundation for strong privacy legislation that prohibits harmful data practices that disproportionately impacts people of color and other marginalized communities. Public Knowledge looks forward to working with members of Congress to ensure these principles are incorporated into comprehensive privacy legislation.”

You may read the full letter here.

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