Experts Weigh in on Federal Government’s Access to Purchase Citizens’ Data

On July 19, In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from several experts regarding digital privacy law and advocacy. Committee members and panelists alike expressed concern over legal loopholes that allow government agencies to buy private citizens’ data from external, private data brokers. In opening remarks, Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) also addressed so-called reverse search warrants, saying these warrants “allow law enforcement agencies to make broad requests for a company's data, such as every person who searched for a specific term, or every person who was in a particular place over some period of time,” absent any traditionally narrow legal requirement such as probable cause.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said just the fact that citizens’ data is being collected is a problem that must be addressed. Nadler agreed and cited the example of federal law enforcement contracts with data brokers, mentioning agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Witness Rebecca Wexler, co-director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and an assistant law professor, said data tracking means that pregnant people seeking access to medical care are “extraordinarily vulnerable to having their data sold to vigilantes as well as provided voluntarily to law enforcement,” even potentially across state lines, in light of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

The hearing also addressed the collection of biometrics like facial recognition. Witnesses expressed concern that such data collection has already been turned into a form of surveillance in China, where the Uighur Muslim community is digitally monitored. Elizabeth Goitein, a senior director at the public policy institute The Brennan Center for Justice, told Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) that biometrics data collection could destroy any remaining form of anonymity in U.S. society.

Former Representative Honorable Bob Goodlatte, currently a senior policy advisor for the Project for Privacy & Surveillance Accountability, and Wexler came together to express support for a House bill known as the “Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act.” Nadler and Lofgren proposed the bill in 2021 to close loopholes that allow government agencies to buy citizens’ data from data brokers.