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Franken focuses in on data privacy as technology takes off

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.”

“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.

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.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 12/15/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    I don’t like companies keeping track of what I do or look at or buy online. Then I am targeted for specific items that I don’t want, my box is full of messages I don’t want, and I haven’t asked them to keep these records. It creeps me out.
    I think Franken also needs to turn his attention to another issue of civil rights, and that is the part of the National Defense Authorization Act that allows the indefinite detention of Americans on American soil.
    He voted for it before (so did Klobuchar). They need to correct themselves now.
    Email and call both of them.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 12/15/2011 - 03:15 pm.

    Here it comes.

    “HI; I’m here from the government, and I’m here to help”..


  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/15/2011 - 03:34 pm.

    Franken has the right idea, but the wrong target. We need someone out there providing data security against the government, not private industry.

    If XYZ Motor Corp is spying on you using the GPS in your phone, the worst you might expect is spam e-mail reminding you to change your oil.

    Big brother will send an armed associate for a face to face interview to find out why your tax forms don’t include the details of the trips you’ve been taking to the casino every weekend.

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 09/04/2014 - 07:19 am.

      Republicans too, are concerned about privacy!

      The Republican booth at the fair took a sloppy survey.
      The results say 440 people marked that “privacy” checkbox first!

      Means they should be happy that Net Neutrality is an issue championed by Senator Franken!

      What makes you want to slice & dice privacy so cavalierly? Hmm.
      You are worried ONLY about the government – but what kind of information did you have to provide in some of the business sites you’ve visited?

      Who gets hacked most often:
      The government, or the slapdash website your neighborhood business put up?
      The recently hacked businesses which likely compromised your credit cards should answer that.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/15/2011 - 04:15 pm.

    You think so, eh? What if “Big Brother” doesn’t bother to track your trips to the casino, but rather purchases that information from XYZ Motor Corp? Hey, fair’s fair in business, right?

  5. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/15/2011 - 06:53 pm.

    Corporations are no more or less trustworthy than governments.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/15/2011 - 06:54 pm.

    The Patriot Act is all we need to know about the loss of privacy and personal liberty.

  7. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/16/2011 - 06:18 am.

    The operative thesis here – that you still have some privacy left to protect – would be a laugh, if it weren’t so tragically pathetic.

    Currently, electronic communications of any and all kinds and types are routinely collected, scanned, and stored. Just to be clear, this means ALL telephone conversations, ALL internet sessions, ALL Tweets, ALL Facebook activity, ALL emails, etc. etc.

    By whom, exactly? And where are these people? How much does it cost? What good has come of the extinction of U.S. citizens’ privacy? How would you know if this information were being used in an unlawful manner?

    Ask these questions of any U.S. Senator or Congressman. Even they, who voted this into law and just recently voted for it again, can’t give you an honest answer, because they don’t know. They’re not supposed to know. They’re only supposed to vote for it, for alleged national security reasons. And these days, when you allege national security is at issue, whether true or false, the brains of these elected ones turns to the consistency of oatmeal.

    For a Senate which has authorized the extinction of privacy to NOW turn around and pretend to be acting in defense of privacy is a near-perfect expression of their duplicity.

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