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A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, has proposed banning police from buying access to user data from data brokers, including ones that “illegitimately obtained” their records.

“The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act” is sponsored by 20 members of the U.S. Senate.

The proposed act:

— Requires the government to get a court order to compel data brokers to disclose data — the same kind of court order needed to compel data from tech and phone companies.

— Stops law enforcement and intelligence agencies buying data on people in the United States and about Americans abroad, if the data was obtained from a user’s account or device, or via deception, hacking, violations of a contract, privacy policy or terms of service.

— Extends existing privacy laws to infrastructure firms that own data cables and cell towers.

— Closes loopholes that would permit the intelligence community to buy or otherwise acquire metadata about Americans’ international calls, texts and emails to family and friends abroad.

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— Takes away the attorney general’s authority to grant civil immunity to providers and other third parties for assistance with surveillance not required or permitted by statute. Providers retain immunity for surveillance assistance ordered by a court.

In effect, it would present significant action against the widespread proliferation of facial recognition technology using images scraped from social media and the warrantless supply chain of location data from ordinary smartphone apps, through middlemen, and eventually to agencies.

“The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act is, in my view, a critically important bill that will prevent agencies from circumventing core constitutional protections by purchasing access to data they would otherwise need a warrant to obtain,” said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU and a host of civil, digital and race activism groups have endorsed the bill, according to the office of Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who is spearheading the legislation. Wyden announced the intention to introduce the bill last year after reports that several government agencies had purchased citizens’ location data through a service called Venntel rather than obtaining it through a warrant. “There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider,” Wyden said in a statement today. “This bill closes that legal loophole and ensures that the government can’t use its credit card to end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

“The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure ensures that the liberty of every American cannot be violated on the whims, or financial transactions, of every government officer,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “This critical legislation will put an end to the government’s practice of buying its way around the Bill of Rights by purchasing the personal and location data of everyday Americans. Enacting the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act will not only stop this gross abuse of privacy, but also stands for the fundamental principle that government exists to protect, not trade away, individual rights.”

The House has introduced a similar bill. And there is widespread support

It is rare for a bill to be so bipartisan, and have civil rights and technology groups endorsing the legislation, including: Access Now, Accountable Tech, American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, Center for Democracy and Technology, Color of Change, Demand Progress, Due Process Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Freedom of the Press Foundation, FreedomWorks, Free Press Action, Interactive Advertising Bureau, MediaJustice, Mozilla, NAACP, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Network Advertising Initiative, Open Technology Institute at New America, Open The Government, PEN America, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability, Restore the Fourth, Mijente, Just Futures Law and Brennan Center for Justice. It is well past time for Congress to pass a law like this. Federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seem to think they don’t need legal process to access location data on millions of U.S. citizens as long as they can buy it on the open market. That’s wrong, and this act would help everyone rest a bit easier.

Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, April 22