WASHINGTON, DC - Yesterday, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to clarify its interpretation of a critical federal law that protects the private and personal data of Americans. Recently, servers owned by Epsilon Data Management were hacked, exposing the names and e-mail addresses of millions of American consumers. Separately, public securities filings disclosed a broad investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of New Jersey into alleged privacy breaches by several popular applications or “apps” for smartphones.
These incidents are likely to be investigated under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Sens. Franken and Blumenthal, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have asked the DOJ to clarify its interpretation of the CFAA so that consumers know their privacy rights and law enforcement officials know how to best enforce the law. They also asked the DOJ to update its manuals to reflect that smartphones and other personal devices are recognized as “computers” under the CFAA. Finally, they asked the DOJ to provide insight into how the Senate can strengthen existing privacy protections.
“We write to the Department to clarify how it determines the scope of authorization under the CFAA in the absence of a written policy or agreement addressing the issue,” the senators wrote in their letter. “We further ask that the Department communicate this interpretation to consumers, prosecutors, and industry stakeholders. We believe that a clear statement on the application of the CFAA in these circumstances will help consumers know their rights, help industry develop new products and services, and help law enforcement take action against bad actors.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Franken was named chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. Last year, he pressed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to incorporate an analysis of geotags into an updated stalking victimization study connected to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Last month, Sen. Franken led several of his Senate colleagues in urging Facebook to reverse proposed plans that would allow the disclosure of users’ home addresses and phone numbers to third parties.