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Nov 30 -- The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will convene three virtual Listening Sessions about issues and potential solutions at the intersection of privacy, equity, and civil rights. The sessions will help to provide the data for a report on the ways in which commercial data flows of personal information can lead to disparate impact and outcomes for marginalized or disadvantaged communities. The meetings will be held on December 14, 15, and 16, 2021, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
 
NTIA studies and develops policy advice about the impact of technology and the internet on privacy. This includes examining the extent to which technology implementations, business models, and related data processing are adequately addressed by the U.S.'s current privacy protection framework. Importantly, NTIA has long acknowledged that privacy is a matter of contextual data flow and use rather than simply being a question of publicity. Increasingly, scholarship has shown that marginalized or underserved communities are especially in need of robust privacy protections. These studies have shown that not only are these communities often materially disadvantaged with regards to the marginal effort required to adequately manage privacy controls, they are often at increased risk of suffering harm from losses of privacy or misuse of collected data.

The Administration has highlighted that there is a national imperative to promote equity and increase support for communities and individuals that have been “historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” As stated in the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government: “[e]ntrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied [. . .] equal opportunity to individuals and communities.” These entrenched disparities persist in the digital economy, and the collection, processing, sharing, and use of data can directly affect—both positively and negatively—structural inequities present in our society.

The following examples underscore how commercial collection and use of personal information, even for legitimate purposes, often results in disparate outcomes for marginalized and underserved communities:

• Digital advertising systems have been shown to often reproduce historical patterns of discrimination by enabling discriminatory targeting by advertisers. Even when targeting criteria does not include protected traits, targeted advertising can be used to perpetuate discrimination using proxy indicators of race, gender, disability, and other characteristics.

• Data brokers, health insurance companies, and their subsidiaries are using information such as neighborhood safety, bankruptcies, gun ownership, inferred hobbies, and other information to determine coverage for people they deem more likely to require more expensive care These assessments can rely on unreliable and discriminatory heuristics or proxies for characteristics such as race, socioeconomic status, or disability—or as one salesman joked, “God forbid you live on the wrong street these days,” he said. “You're going to get lumped in with a lot of bad things.”

• Software implemented by a university to predict whether students will struggle academically used race as a strong predictor for poor performance.  Black students were flagged “high risk” for dropping out of certain subjects, such as science and math, at elevated rates, a designation that researchers warned could improperly lead to advisors encourage students to change to “easier” majors.

In light of these and many more examples, it is critical for policymakers to understand how information policy can reduce data-driven discrimination and disparate treatment. In service of these objectives, NTIA announces through this Notice three virtual Listening Sessions, which aim to advance the policy conversation on how to alleviate the disproportionate privacy harms suffered by marginalized or underserved communities. NTIA's upcoming Listening Sessions are intended as an opportunity to build the factual record for further policy development in this area. The information gathered from these Listening Sessions will inform a subsequent Request for Comment, and together these efforts will provide the basis for NTIA to draft a report. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

• The role and adequacy of current civil rights laws, related protections, and enforcement thereof in mitigating privacy harms against marginalized communities.
• The interplay between current civil rights laws and related protections with current privacy laws and proposed reforms.
• Data brokers and secondary markets for data.
• Exploitation of data or commercially available software for stalking or harassment based on protected class status.
• Workplace tracking and surveillance that may be discriminatory.
• Hiring, credit, lending, and housing algorithms and advertisements.
• Intersectional privacy needs of groups such as trans individuals, the unhoused, or people with disabilities.
 
The format of the Listening Sessions will include a mix of keynote speeches, moderated panel discussions, and open forums for members of the public to share their perspective. The first Listening session will be held on December 14, 2021, on the intersection of civil rights law and privacy. The second Listening session will be held on December 15, 2021, and will be on the way in which the collection, use, and processing of personal and personally sensitive data affects structural inequities. The final Listening session will focus on solutions to the gaps and problems identified in the first two sessions, and will be held on December 16, 2021.

FR notice: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/30/2021-25999/privacy-equity-and-civil-rights-listening-sessions

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