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Franken focuses in on data privacy as technology takes off

WASHINGTON — As chairman of a new subcommittee, Sen. Al Franken is embracing efforts to protect private information during a time of explosive technological growth. But where do you draw the line?

Sen. Al Franken
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Sen. Al Franken

“Our technology has been just evolving at such a rapid pace and the law hasn’t been keeping up with it,” he said. “The groundwork I’d like to lay is that Congress is starting to keep pace with technology and how it impacts people’s privacy.”

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“The Founding Fathers didn’t know there would be phones,” Franken said. “When they wrote the Fourth Amendment, they didn’t know whether a phone tap would be an illegal search and seizure. So the court ultimately had to decide whether it was and whether the government had to get a subpoena to do a phone tap.”

But it’s not only the government that should have limits on what data it can use, but private enterprise, Franken said. His main piece of data privacy legislation, the Location Privacy Protection Act, would require companies that track users’ locations to first receive permission to do so. It also bans the sale of so-called “stalker apps,” which provide customers with information about another person’s whereabouts or what they’re doing on a mobile device.

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Beyond legislation, Franken has also pressured technology companies to improve privacy measures on their own. This session he’s written letters to tech giants like Apple and Facebook insisting they limit the amount of private information they cull without users’ consent. In one case, he and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons wrote OnStar asking the navigation and roadside assistance company to back off its plans to log the locations of current and former subscribers and sell the data to third parties. The company later dropped the plan.

“Technology is one of the places where the law does have to keep up because technology changes and it changes of the context of things,” Franken said. “What do we, as a people, agree that we have rights to protect? What have we become accustomed to having protected?”

“Companies are realizing that data has quite a lot of value,” Soltani said.

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