Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee for Privacy, Technology and the Law about proposed Senate Bill 2171, “The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 (LPPA).” The Act would prohibit companies from collecting or disclosing geolocation information from electronic communications devices without users’ consent. The Act would also (1) prevent companies from collecting location data in secret; (2) require companies that collect location data of 1,000 or more devices to post online the kinds of data they collect, how they share and use it, and how people can opt out of such data collection; (3) ban the development, operation, and sale of GPS stalking apps; and (4) require the federal government to gather more information about and facilitate reporting of GPS stalking.
Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, Jessica Rich, expressed the Commission’s support for the Act, framing it as an important step forward in protecting consumers’ sensitive geolocation information. While acknowledging that geolocation data products can make consumers’ lives more convenient and efficient, Director Rich underscored the danger to consumer privacy posed by these products and the potential exploitive use of such detailed, comprehensive records without consumers’ knowledge or consent.
Director Rich’s testimony highlighted three important LPPA provisions that are consistent with the FTC’s views:
- The LPPA defines “geolocation information” as information that is “sufficient to identify the street name and name of the city or town” in which a device is located, which is consistent with the FTC’s definition in its COPPA Rule.
- The LPPA requires that an entity collecting consumer geolocation information disclose its collection of such information, which is in line with the FTC’s long standing call for more transparency in data collection practices.
- The LPPA requires affirmative express consent from consumers before a covered entity may knowingly collect or disclose geolocation information, an approach the FTC supports.
The proposed bill currently gives the Department of Justice sole enforcement and rulemaking authority, in consultation with the FTC. The FTC recommended that the Commission have rulemaking and enforcement authority with regard to the civil provisions of the LPPA, while the DOJ would have enforcement authority for the criminal provisions. The Senate hearing also included representatives of the US Government Accountability Office, local law enforcement agencies, industry groups, and domestic violence organizations.
If passed, this bill has the potential to dramatically change the way companies collecting consumer geolocation information do business. The FTC’s support of this bill further signals its commitment to regulating and enforcing restrictions on the storage and use of sensitive consumer information. This is certainly a bill to watch.