State needs to protect citizens' privacy online

  • Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

 
By Tom Dart
Guest columnist
Posted4/24/2017 1:00 AM

As technology's hyper-evolution has persisted over the last 20 years, law enforcement tactics have slowly followed. In 11 years as sheriff of America's second-largest county, I've been painfully aware of law enforcement being a step behind those seeking to use technology nefariously.

In recent years we've brought policing online, but we know we must be intensely scrupulous when utilizing the internet to fight crime -- anything less would be illegal, unethical and an unacceptable privacy invasion. Why then aren't corporations required to abide by some measure of transparency while profiting from that which is not theirs -- the personal data of customers?

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Consumers are getting hoodwinked when it comes to their data being sold without their knowing consent by companies with which they do business. For this reason, I have proposed the Right to Know Act, which seeks to increase transparency around corporate data-selling practices to third parties.

This landmark legislation, which has progressed through both chambers of the Illinois legislature, faces a critical vote in Springfield this week. The bill would allow transparency by providing consumers with a right to know what personal data is being collected and which third parties are buying or otherwise acquiring it.

The reality is, selling customers' sensitive personal data to data brokerages and other unknown third party entities is a hidden billion-dollar industry.

Even if you trust your favorite online service provider to act responsibly with your data, data selling to third-party entities is still murky. These massive billion-dollar giants, the likes of which you've probably never heard, likely know plenty about you -- and your family members. One of the largest data brokerages openly boasts about having 3,000 pieces of information on every American consumer while another brags that it has personality-profiled every single U.S. adult.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We're talking about companies with information troves on over 220 million Americans. How can we know these companies operate responsibly?

Large tech companies have voiced vehement opposition to Right to Know, including some of the same groups that applauded and commended Congress' repeal of FCC privacy protections. They've argued, without evidence, that Right to Know would be overly burdensome. A consumer being complicit and complacent in surrendering their personal data is far easier and more profitable. You and I cannot accept that.

I've also heard tech companies claim consumers do not care about their data. Then why did more than 1,200 citizens publicly file as proponents of the bill?

In reality, many companies already have this information, and Right to Know does not inhibit this, it simply asks that they be transparent with consumers. With this information, you can evaluate companies based on their data-sharing practices.

Public safety is at stake when it comes to hidden data-selling practices -- software monitoring users' locations could let burglars know if they're home, and children's toys that document child interactions can be hacked. These issues demand consumer vigilance, and as a parent myself, I am concerned. I cannot -- will not - stand idle.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

States spanning the political spectrum (Minnesota, Missouri, and Vermont) have joined in introducing data protection bills. It's my hope that Right to Know can serve as a model for other states.

The first step is to pass Right to Know Act here, in Illinois, and you can help by contacting representatives or senators and urging them to support your family's right to know about your personal data.

While Americans want stronger consumer protections, Congress failed by repealing our federal data privacy protections. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who introduced the bill to eliminate FCC oversight of online service providers, recently faced a raucous town hall crowd chanting, in unison, "Shame on you."

This week, fellow elected officials from our legislature face the critical choice of whether to step up and provide necessary state protections for Illinoisans. If we don't act now by passing this legislation and protecting our constituents from abusive violations of trust with their sensitive personal information, then shame on us.

Tom Dart, a Democrat, is sheriff of Cook County. House Bill 2774 is sponsored by Rep. Arthur Turner, a Chicago Democrat. Senate Bill 1502 is sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings, a Frankfort Democrat.

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