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In letters shared exclusively with The Technology 202, six House Democrats demanded to know whether the giants are taking steps to “protect the privacy rights of those seeking to exercise their reproductive rights” after the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights.
“Data collected and sold by your company could be used by law enforcement and prosecutors in states with aggressive abortion restrictions,” lawmakers wrote Wednesday, voicing concern about the collection and use of location data, particularly.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The pair joins a growing pool of companies under pressure to rein in their data collection tactics as more states look to outlaw or restrict abortions.
In recent weeks, Democrats have upped their pressure campaign on common targets like Google and Apple, but the letters may be the first directed at the cloud-computing giants.
“These are some of the largest companies that are collecting geolocation data, and as we saw with SafeGraph, we are incredibly concerned over the ways that geolocation data can be used to threaten people,” said Amnesty International’s Michael Kleinman, whose group led separate letters to the companies echoing lawmakers’ concerns.
In a new wrinkle, Democrats are pressing the companies to disclose whether they have “conducted a human rights impact assessment” to evaluate whether their practices could be used to prosecute those seeking abortions.
Led by Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), the group is calling on the tech giants and two other data brokers to answer by Aug. 3. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) co-signed it.
Amnesty International, Access Now and Fight for the Future urged the companies to follow in the footsteps of data broker SafeGraph, which in May pledged to stop selling information about visits to abortion clinics. The company announced the move after Vice reported on those sales.
“In addition, we urge you to take steps to stop the collection and disclosure of data related to abortion and reproductive rights,” the groups wrote.
Spokespeople for Oracle and Amazon did not return requests for comment.
Kleinman also expressed concern about data brokers selling anonymized data that could be easily re-identified and linked back to users for the purposes of a prosecution.
“What we need to ensure is that the companies sitting on that massive amount of potentially sensitive data have thought through the rights implications of that data,” he said.
Even if companies adhere to their demands, it won’t be enough until there are also greater legal safeguards to protect against overcollection and misuse of data, he said.
“Actions like this are necessary, but not sufficient. And so companies need to act … we also need, and this is Amnesty speaking, effective federal privacy legislation,” he said.
Lawmakers have raised concerns about anonymized data and creating guardrails around data brokers in the latest round of data privacy talks on Capitol Hill.
Last month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said a major bipartisan privacy proposal “unfortunately would not do enough to protect fundamental rights of a woman,” citing concerns that a “loophole” around anonymized data could be exploited to target those seeking abortions.
House lawmakers advanced an amended version of the bill 53-2 on Wednesday.
While Wyden is still reviewing other recent changes to the bill, he “strongly believes this must be fixed before any legislation becomes law,” spokesman Keith Chu said Wednesday.
The remarks reflect how Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups are still grappling with how to respond to a multitude of privacy risks post-Roe.
Data privacy bill sails through House panel
The bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act became the first consumer privacy bill to advance out of a congressional panel on Wednesday, as I reported.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill 53-2 with only two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Nanette Barragán, voting against. Led by Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and ranking Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the measure would set limits on how much data companies can collect, give consumers a limited right to bring lawsuits against violators and override most state privacy laws.
“Today’s vote has been years in the making and is a major step forward in our bipartisan effort to establish national data privacy protections for all Americans,” Pallone, McMorris Rodgers and other panel leaders said in a joint statement after the markup session.
But the proposal still faces major hurdles in the Senate, where a top Democrat has rejected the proposal as too weak on enforcement.
Pelosi backs revamped chips bill, teases possible floor vote
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House plans to vote as early as next week on the trimmed-down version of a proposal to boost semiconductor production in the United States, Reuters’ David Shepardson reports.
“As the Senate undergoes its legislative process, we are optimistic that the House will be able to take this bill up as early as next week,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to lawmakers, adding that the measure “will lower costs for families here at home while reigniting American competitiveness on the world stage.”
The remarks come as senate leaders tee up their own vote. “On Tuesday, the Senate backed by 64 to 34 a procedural measure to set the stage for potential votes to pass the legislation in the Senate as soon as this week,” Shepardson reports.
Former Twitter staffer heads to trial over claims he secretly gave Saudi Arabia data
Authorities arrested the former Twitter employee, Ahmad Abouammo, in 2019. He’s accused of being an unregistered agent of the Saudi government and committing wire fraud and money laundering, my colleague Aaron Schaffer reports for The Technology 202.
Abouammo was paid at least $300,000 by Bader Al Asaker, a Saudi official who ran Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s charity, prosecutors say.
“Abouammo, who was arrested in Seattle, worked for Twitter as a media partnerships manager,” my colleagues wrote in 2019. “He met Asaker in London in late 2014. Within a week, he began illicitly accessing data for the Saudis,” and one of his targets was an anonymous Saudi critic whose tweets about Saudi corruption to more than a million followers have angered Saudi officials, they wrote.
Abouammo’s attorney, Angela Chuang, told the New York Times that “we look forward to vindicating Mr. Abouammo and for him to have his day in court.” Prosecutors expect Abouammo’s team to argue that he was legally working as a consultant for Saudi Arabia, the Times reports, citing a court filing.
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