The academic, civil society, company, and investor members of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) are concerned by recent accounts of law enforcement and other government agencies acquiring sensitive user data from third-party data brokers. Government procurement of personal data from data brokers raises significant questions about whether and how the right to privacy, as understood under both domestic and international law, is being protected.
As the GNI Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy make clear, “the right to privacy should not be restricted by governments, except in narrowly defined circumstances based on internationally recognized laws and standards.” The GNI Principles set out guidance for how information and communications technology (ICT) companies should protect their users’ human rights when considering how to comply with government demands, laws, or regulations. GNI’s detailed Implementation Guidelines call on our members to “[e]ncourage governments to be specific, transparent and consistent in the demands, laws and regulations,” and call on member companies to adopt policies and procedures to “address situations where governments may make demands through proxies and other third parties to evade domestic legal procedures.”
GNI encourages lawmakers to examine the practice of government procurement of user data and support legislative efforts, such as the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act recently introduced in the U.S. Congress, to ensure that government agencies are not procuring such data in order to avoid or circumvent legal requirements that would otherwise apply. Closing data broker loopholes will help ensure that government agencies respect user privacy, allow ICT companies to share data with third parties for legitimate reasons, consistent with user rights, and enhance user trust in both governments and ICT companies.