At the first hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's new Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, Chairman Al Franken (D-MN) today focused on privacy concerns about the use of location data and mobile devices and applications, while placing them within a broader context of data security and data privacy.

As Chairman Franken explained, "today is about is trying to find a balance between all of those wonderful benefits and the public's right to privacy." He worried that there has been a fundamental shift in "who has our information and what they're doing with it" and that his new Subcommittee would focus on making sure that "privacy protections are keeping up with our technology."

While Chairman Franken opened the hearing by pointing out, "I don't think we're doing enough to protect" consumers, Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-OK) replied that the Committee needed a lot more information before they could consider any kind of legislation in this area. Full Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) focused his time on the need for national data security legislation, like that which the Judiciary Committee has passed in previous Congresses, as well as a coming update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a federal law restricting government and law enforcement search and seizure of electronic communications.

Despite the specific focus of the hearing on the privacy of mobile device location data, witnesses from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice, Apple, Google, and the Center for Democracy and Technology all touched on varying degrees of support for comprehensive data privacy and data security legislation.

A distinct point of confusion among some observers of the hearing came courtesy of a growing disconnect between the demands of law enforement and privacy and technology advocates when it comes to data retention. The witness from the Department of Justice, Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department's Criminal Division, stated that records like IP addresses "are an absolutely necessary link in the investigative chain," and recommended that the subcommittee require data retention on the part of ISPs and wireless providers. This contradicts the interests expressed by the Senators in attendance as well as several witnesses, who argued that such information should not be retained much at all.

Photo: Senator Al Franken (D-MN)