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NTIA Virtual Listening Sessions to Explore Data Privacy, Equity and Civil Rights

December 13, 2021 by Evelyn Remaley, Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information

Every day, personal information is used to make important decisions: about what advertisements we see, what types of health care is offered in our communities, and what fields of study our educational institutes believe we are best suited for.

The collection, processing, and sharing of personal information can create serious risks for everyone. For racial minorities, people living with disabilities, people living in poverty, and other marginalized and underserved communities, the risks can be especially acute.

For example, advertisers can both intentionally and inadvertently use digital tools that allow for harmful discrimination in ad targeting, potentially reproducing historical patterns of discrimination in areas such as housing or employment opportunities. Even when targeting criteria does not directly use traits such as race or gender, proxy indicators of these characteristics can nonetheless perpetuate discrimination.

The Biden Administration has made it a clear policy priority to advance racial equity and support underserved communities. As public policy discussions around privacy continue to advance, it is apparent that robust privacy protections are critical to achieving this goal.

To increase understanding of these issues and explore ways of addressing them, NTIA invites all interested parties to participate in three listening sessions concerning personal data: privacy, equity, and civil rights. NTIA will also be soliciting written comments on the topics discussed in these sessions through a future Request for Comment. The data gathered through this process will be used to inform a report on the ways in which commercial data flows of personal information can lead to disparate impact and outcomes for marginalized and underserved communities.

Each session will include one or two keynote speakers, followed by a panel of subject matter experts. This will be followed by one hour in which members of the public are welcome to give comments on the topic.

The first session, which is scheduled for December 14 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. ET, will focus on existing civil rights and privacy laws, their application to discriminatory data collection and use practices, and their potential (or inability) to address problematic practices.

The second session, which is scheduled for December 15 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET, will focus on how data collection and use practices impact structural inequities that impact marginalized groups, including for groups and attributes that fall outside the ambit of traditional civil rights laws.

The third and final session, which is scheduled for December 16 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET, will explore potential solutions to the problems highlighted in the first two sessions.

You can find more detailed descriptions of each session, as well as dial-in information, on NTIA’s website. We look forward to hearing from the public on this vital issue.