A bill proposing the prohibition of selling users’ phone location data is currently under deliberation in the Massachusetts state legislature. The so-called Location Shield Act, if approved, would be the pioneering law of its kind in the United States as Congress struggles to come up with comprehensive nationwide privacy protection measures. Additionally, the proposed bill would necessitate law enforcement obtaining a warrant to procure user location data from data brokers.
The Wall Street Journal recently provided a comprehensive report on the bill, after initial deliberations in the state house, as mentioned by The Athol Daily News. While the bill doesn’t prevent the use of location services for user-oriented utilities like Google Maps, DoorDash, or Uber by Massachusetts residents, it prohibits tech companies and data brokers from selling this information to third parties — a practice with no obvious benefit to consumers.
The ACLU, as well as numerous progressive and pro-choice groups, endorse the Location Shield Act. They argue that the urgency to prevent user location data distribution has increased in the aftermath of the Dobbs ruling. The escalating trend of criminalizing abortion in red states has amplified concerns about user data being utilized to monitor women seeking abortion services or medication out of state. The bill’s supporters also highlight concerns about national security and the potential for digital stalking.
The proposed legislation faces opposition from the State Privacy & Security Coalition, a trade association representing the technology industry. “The definition of sale is far-reaching,” claims Andrew Kingman, a lawyer for the association. The coalition favors increased protections but would rather see a solution where consumers can opt out of data sales, as proposed by other states, instead of a total ban. This opt-out approach would, of course, be significantly more beneficial for the profit margins of data brokers.
Making law enforcement present a warrant to gain access to user location data may help check the growing trend of such information being purchased commercially. A 2022 ACLU investigation discovered that the Department of Homeland Security acquired over 336,000 data points effectively sidestepping the Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant. Even though the US Supreme Court generally necessitates a warrant for agencies to access location data from carriers, data purchase from private entities has provided a way around.
The Massachusetts legislative session will continue into next year, with the bill’s advocates holding a hopeful outlook regarding its passage. “I am quite positive that we will make headway in this session,” Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader and the bill’s sponsor, Cindy Creem (D), shared with the WSJ.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about User Location Data Sale Ban
What is the Location Shield Act being considered by Massachusetts?
The Location Shield Act is a bill currently under review in the Massachusetts state legislature that proposes to ban the sale of users’ phone location data. If passed, this act would be the first of its kind in the country.
Who supports the Location Shield Act and why?
The ACLU, as well as various progressive and pro-choice groups, support the Location Shield Act. These groups see an increased need to stop the spread of user location data following the Dobbs ruling. They have concerns about data being used to monitor women seeking out-of-state abortion services, and also express apprehension over national security and potential digital stalking.
Who opposes the Location Shield Act and why?
The State Privacy & Security Coalition, a trade association representing the technology industry, opposes the Location Shield Act. The group argues that the definition of sale is overly broad and, while it supports increased protections, it would prefer to give consumers the option to opt out of data sales rather than enforce an outright ban.
What would be the implications of the Location Shield Act for law enforcement?
If the Location Shield Act passes, law enforcement would need to obtain a warrant to access user location data from data brokers. This could curb the rising trend of commercially purchasing such information and bypassing the Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant.
What is the current status of the Location Shield Act?
As of mid-2023, the bill is under review in the Massachusetts state legislature, and supporters of the bill, including MA Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D), express optimism about its passage. The legislative session runs through the next year.