Privacy Isn’t a Right You Can Click Away

Be honest—have you ever read a privacy disclosure? Even once?

Facebook’s data privacy policy is more than 4,000 words. It contains dozens of links to hundreds of pages of complex terms and agreements. Even if you had the time to read it, you’d need a law degree and a data science background to understand which rights you’re signing away and what frightening experiments Facebook is cooking up with your private life as raw material.

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Sherrod Brown is Ohio’s senior US senator and ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

And even if you do have handfuls of advanced degrees and a superhuman ability to read the hundreds of privacy policies you agree to every year, clicking No isn’t a realistic option when you depend on the service. So most of us click Yes and agree to sign away our information, because our credit cards, mortgages, car loans, bank accounts, health apps, smart phones, and email accounts all require us to. It’s simply the price of admission.

Privacy is a civil right. But corporations force you to sign it away every day.

There’s a reason these privacy and data agreements are impossible to understand and to avoid: They were never meant to protect you—they are meant to protect Big Tech.

We don’t expect citizens to be aeronautical engineers, making sure they understand all the risks of flying, and then sign a form giving away their right to sue if the plane goes down. In the same way, we can’t expect everyone to be a privacy expert just so they can protect their families from corporations that want to exploit their data.

To reclaim our privacy we need to limit the amount of personal information that’s out there.

That’s why I wrote a bill that takes the burden off of consumers and puts it where it should be: on Big Tech. My plan separates innovative and helpful uses of data from the abusive and invasive practices that have become commonplace. It creates an agency to monitor companies that collect data and gives everyday Americans powerful legal tools to hold those companies accountable. It also bans facial recognition, an immature and dangerous technology, outright.

My bill would drastically scale back the permitted uses of your personal data, banning companies from collecting any data that isn’t strictly necessary to provide you with the service you asked for. For example, signing up for a credit card online won’t give the bank the right to use your data for anything else—not marketing, and certainly not to use that data to sign you up for five more accounts you didn’t ask for (we’re looking at you, Wells Fargo).

It’s not only the specific companies you sign away your data to that profit off it—they sell it to other companies you’ve never heard of, without your knowledge. And all of that data flowing through online stores and social media sites can be harvested by the government too. There’s no check box to opt out of that. When you sign away your privacy rights to a corporation, you’ve basically given the government permission to sift through your secrets as well.

Recently, a company called Clearview AI scoured the internet to train facial-recognition technology that it sold to law enforcement around the country. Facial recognition is reportedly being used by police in Minneapolis and other places, to target Black Lives Matter protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. And this dangerous and powerful technology was responsible for the wrongful arrest of a man in Michigan. Do you know anyone who consented to that?

This plan would put a stop to Big Tech mining your data and selling it to abusive corporations or the government. The right to privacy or the right to peacefully protest isn’t something we should lose by clicking “I agree.” Under my plan, you could rest easy knowing that regardless of the 4,000-word privacy policy shoved in your face, it’s illegal for your data to be bought and sold, or sent to law enforcement.

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