ACLU, NAACP call on Congress to address discrimination in privacy laws

The civil rights groups aim to fix issues like discriminative advertising, voter suppression and targeted misinformation.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read

Civil rights groups are calling on Congress to address discrimination in privacy laws. 

Ian Knighton/CNET

Civil rights groups are calling on Congress to protect marginalized groups in privacy laws.

On Wednesday, over 40 advocacy organizations, including the ACLU, NAACP, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Democracy & Technology, jointly sent a letter to Congress, urging lawmakers to address data-driven discrimination issues in upcoming privacy laws.

"Privacy rights are civil rights," the letter said. "Protecting privacy in the era of big data means protecting against uses of consumer information that concentrate harms on marginalized communities while concentrating profits elsewhere."

The letter said data security and privacy abuses have harmed marginalized communities. Such abuses include deceptive voter suppression, misinformation targeting African Americans, and discriminatory government surveillance.

The letter comes as the Government Accountability Office on Wednesday issued a report recommending the passage of a federal internet privacy law with harsh penalties for companies that violate regulation. The report found that over the past 10 years, most of the Federal Trade Commission's actions against data privacy abuses went without fines because the agency doesn't have the authority to impose them.

Civil rights groups and the federal government have raised concerns over data abuse and bias being built into technology. Facebook has been accused of excluding certain groups of people, based on ethnic groups and gender, in its targeted advertising features. Last month a study found that Amazon's facial recognition technology shows gender and racial bias.  

"It is long past time to see effective privacy laws for commercial data practices established in the United States," said the letter.

NASA turns 60: The space agency has taken humanity farther than anyone else, and it has plans to go further.

Taking It to Extremes: Mix insane situations -- erupting volcanoes, nuclear meltdowns, 30-foot waves -- with everyday tech. Here's what happens.