Digital Privacy Bills Piling Up in Congress

Two new proposals introduced Wednesday

The pile of bills in Congress aimed at protecting consumers' privacy from the wonders of their digital devices grew by two on Wednesday. Both new bills are aimed at mobile privacy, and more specifically are intended to keep consumers' location information from being collected or used without their consent.

Two Democratic senators, Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal, introduced the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011, which would require companies like Apple and Google, and app developers, to obtain consent from users before collecting or sharing location data with third parties.

Separately, the bipartisan team of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced the GPS Act (for Geolocational Surveillance and Privacy), which prevents individuals and law enforcement from using individuals' geolocation data without following clear legal guidelines set out in the bill, similar to the way law enforcement seeks a warrant for a wiretap.

"Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we're in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world," said Franken. He grilled representatives from Google and Apple last month in his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law

Both bills are supported by a range of groups, but their fate is still uncertain. There are a number of privacy bills floating around in Congress and time is running out. On the Senate side, a "Do Not Track" bill from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.V., the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is competing for attention with The Kerry-McCain Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act, sponsored by former presidential nominees John Kerry and John McCain.

So to help smooth the way for The GPS Act, Wyden sought out a GOP partner on the House side. "We waited for Chaffetz before introducing the bill," Wyden told reporters following a press conference. The GPS Act is also co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet.

And, speaking of his partnership with Chaffetz on privacy issues, Wyden said, "This will be the first in a series of things we will do."