Daily Digest (7/29)

13 Dem Lawmakers Seek Aid for Privacy Protections in Coronavirus Stimulus Package; Texas Probing Facebook for Harvesting Biometric Data from Users; WH Proceeds Move Forward With Plans to Regulate Social Media; Garmin Says App and Services Were Halted by Ransomware. Click “Continue reading” below.

13 Dem Lawmakers Seek Aid for Privacy Protections in Coronavirus Stimulus Package

Thirteen Democrats called on Senate leaders Tuesday to include the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act in the next coronavirus relief package, which is being negotiated by Congress.

The aid could inject $1 trillion in the U.S. economy to help deal with financial pressures created by the pandemic, CNet.com reports. 

The privacy bill, introduced in May, seeks to ensure that personal data collected for handling COVID-19 could only be used for public-health services, and couldn’t be abused by technology companies for other purposes.

Under the bill, data could only be used by a government agency if it deals with public health — and it would require data-security standards so companies collecting that sensitive information would properly protect it.

Tech companies involved in the public-health crisis have asked for sensitive information including location data and biometrics. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced the legislation shortly before Apple and Google’s exposure notification efforts went live on May 20.

In Tuesday’s letter, the Democrats said: “With research consistently showing that Americans are reluctant to adopt COVID screening and tracing apps due to privacy concerns, the lack of health-privacy protections could significantly undermine efforts to contain this virus and begin to safely re-open — particularly with many screening tools requiring a critical mass in order to provide meaningful benefits.”

The U.S. has no federal laws on data privacy, and health-privacy laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), don’t cover tech companies’ efforts against COVID.

Other Democrats signing the letter included: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both of Mass.; Kamala Harris, Calif., Amy Klobuchar, Minn., Corey Booker, N.J., and six others.

“Providing Americans with assurance that their sensitive health data will not be misused will give Americans more confidence to participate in COVID screening efforts, strengthening our common mission in containing and eradicating COVID-19,” the letter said.

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Texas Probing Facebook for Harvesting Biometric Data from Users

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating Facebook over accusations that the platform may have improperly collected biometric data from users.

Though it’s unclear what kind of biometric data Paxton suspects Facebook of improperly collecting, Newsweek reports, the Republican has requested documents related to Facebook’s use of facial-recognition software.

Among the everyday forms of biometric data are fingerprints, facial or retinal scans, voice recognition and DNA matching.

According to documents obtained last month by the Tech Transparency Project, Paxton issued a civil investigative demand to Facebook to determine whether the company had violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act (DTPA).

The law seeks to shield consumers from false and misleading business practices, unconscionable actions and breaches of warranty.

Paxton also has requested that Facebook provide documents related to whether the company violated Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008.

Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment, Newsweek reports.

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WH Proceeds Move Forward With Plans to Regulate Social Media

The Trump administration has taken a key step toward fulfilling the president’s executive order on social media, formally asking the FCC on Monday to develop regulations that could apply to Facebook, Twitter and other tech platforms.

The petition for rulemaking puts the ball in the Federal Communications Commission’s court, CNN reports. The agency now must decide whether to agree to President Donald Trump’s call for FCC oversight of internet platforms.

Republicans long have criticized Facebook, Twitter and other social-media companies for allegedly censoring conservatives; the companies have denied the claims.

“President Trump is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to express their views and not face unjustified restrictions or selective censorship from a handful of powerful companies,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

FCC spokesman Brian Hart said the agency would carefully review the petition, CNN reports.

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Garmin Says App and Services Were Halted by Ransomware

Garmin has confirmed that the “outage” that shut down many of its online services last Thursday, including its fitness-tracking app and parts of its website, came from a ransomware attack.

Many services were restored Monday morning, the company told Consumer Reports, but some remained down into the afternoon.

Garmin said it expected any remaining problems to be resolved “over the next few days.” 

“We immediately began to assess the nature of the attack and started remediation,” Garmin said in a Monday statement, adding that the company had “no indication” that any customer data, including payment information, was compromised in the attack.

Garmin said the attack also affected operation of the Garmin Connect app, which collects and analyzes data from the company’s smartwatches and trackers.

That information continued to be collected on the devices, but the attack kept them from syncing with the app.

Further, Garmin’s call centers have also been affected, leaving the company unable to receive calls and emails, and participate in online chats. But Garmin’s GPS products and other devices weren’t affected.

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— By DPN Staff