Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether a sale of Americans’ data by a tech company to taxpayer-funded entities violated privacy laws.
In his letter, Wyden asked the agency to look into whether Neustar, the tech firm, violated privacy rights when it sold sensitive information from consumers to a Department of Defense-funded research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“For several years, Neustar knowingly sold sensitive internet metadata which it presumably obtained from unwitting consumers,” the letter said.
Wyden said that some of the consumers may have been told that their information was not going to be shared with third parties.
“Neustar did not take sufficient steps to warn consumers that it no longer intended to honor these promises, and as such, appears to have engaged in business practices substantially similar to those that the FTC has previously argued violated the FTC Act,” he said.
Neustar did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.
The letter cited a Wall Street Journal investigation indicating that the tech company started selling the data to the Georgia Tech team in 2016 for a nearly $2 million contract.
Wyden said that Neustar initially refused to answer questions related to its sale of the data, but in September the company said that it does not currently sell such data.
The letter also states that according to emails obtained from the Georgia Tech team, the data was also shared with U.S. federal agencies.
“The emails include several communications between the researchers who purchased the data and both the FBI and DOJ, indicating that government officials asked the researchers to run specific queries and that the researchers wrote affidavits and reports for the government describing their findings,” the letter said, adding that the Department of Justice requests appear to have been executed without a warrant.
Wyden said the DOJ has not provided more information despite repeated requests from his office.
The letter also cited a recent court testimony suggesting that former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe was also involved in the sale of the data to the U.S. government.
“If this data was obtained from Neustar customers, then it appears that Neustar failed to sufficiently warn consumers about its sale of their browsing data, and may have engaged in deception through a material omission,” Wyden said.
“These potentially deceptive practices resulted in the subsequent sharing of Americans’ data with U.S. government agencies, apparently without a warrant,” he added.
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