WASHINGTON–Congress must act now to protect civil rights online, testified David Brody, Managing Attorney for the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in front of the House Committee of Energy and Commerce on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act. The bill is a bipartisan, bicameral legislation that seeks to protect data privacy and civil rights. As Brody outlines in his testimony, the act would prohibit discriminatory uses of personal data and require companies to test their algorithms for bias–a critical first step in achieving racial justice in a digital world.
“If a business posts a sign that says ‘Whites Only’, it should not matter whether it is written in ink or pixels. The discrimination is the same. The harm is the same. And the legal consequences should be the same. We care about data privacy because it ensures that who we are cannot be used against us unfairly. Privacy rights are civil rights.” Brody said.
The bill’s protections would help mitigate the discriminatory algorithms that determine eligibility for essential needs such as housing, employment, credit, healthcare, education, and public accommodations. The ramifications of these biases disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, as well as other marginalized and disenfranchised groups.
The bill also requires companies to collect and use only as much personal data as is reasonably necessary and proportionate to provide the services that consumers expect, as well as requires disclosure of data practices. Giving individuals transparency into and control over how their data is used is essential to identifying and responding to discriminatory practices. While this legislation is a good first step, Brody also outlined areas for improvement in the bill, including its narrow private right of action, which severely curtails the ability of individuals to obtain relief from a court when a company violates the Act.
“Almost sixty years ago, we decided as a nation that our polity is stronger when everyone has a fair chance. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit
segregation in interstate commerce. The internet and other novel technologies create
new challenges to the prevention and elimination of redlining and discrimination,” Brody stated. “It is time to build upon our civil rights infrastructure to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity on the internet and fair access to the information, goods, and services it enables.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.