Whatever online harms you want to alleviate on the internet today, you can do it better—with a broader impact—if you enact strong consumer data privacy legislation first. That is a grounding principle that has informed much of EFF’s consumer protection work in 2023.
While consumer privacy will not solve every problem, it is superior to many other proposals that attempt to address issues like child mental health or foreign government surveillance. That is true for two reasons: well written consumer privacy laws address the root source of corporate surveillance, and they can withstand constitutional scrutiny.
EFF’s work on this issue includes: (1) advocating for strong comprehensive consumer data privacy laws; (2) fighting bad laws; (3) protecting existing sectoral privacy laws.
Advocating for Strong Comprehensive Consumer Data Privacy
This year, EFF released a report titled “Privacy First: A Better Way to Address Online Harms.” The report listed the key pillars of a strong privacy law (like no online behavioral ads and minimization) and how these principles can help address current issues (like protecting children’s mental health or reproductive health privacy).
We highlighted why data privacy legislation is a form of civil rights legislation and why adtech surveillance often feeds government surveillance.
And we made the case why well-written privacy laws can be constitutional when they regulate the commercial processing of personal data; that personal data is private and not a matter of public concern; and the law is tailored to address the government’s interest in privacy, free expression, security, and guarding against discrimination.
Fighting Bad Laws Based in Censorship of Internet Users
We filed amicus briefs in lawsuits challenging laws in Arkansas and Texas that required internet users to submit to age verification before accessing certain online content. These challenges continue to make their way through the courts, but they have so far been successful. We plan to do the same in a case challenging California’s Age Appropriate Design Code, while cautioning the court not to cast doubt on important privacy principles.
We filed a similar amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging Montana’s TikTok ban, where a federal court recently ruled that the law violated users’ First Amendment rights to speak and to access information online, and the company’s First Amendment rights to select and curate users’ content.
Protecting Existing Sectoral Laws
EFF is also gearing up to file an amicus brief supporting the constitutionality of the federal law called the Video Privacy Protection Act, which limits how video providers can sell or share their users’ private viewing data with third-party companies or the government. While we think a comprehensive privacy law is best, we support strong existing sectoral laws that protect data like video watch history, biometrics, and broadband use records.
This blog is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2023.