Privacy Concerns: Bill Advances to Make Tech Platforms Inform DEA About Users

by / ⠀Featured News / July 17, 2023
Privacy Concerns: Bill Advances to Make Tech Platforms Inform DEA About Users

The Cooper Davis Act, which the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee just passed, has privacy activists up in arms. The bill, which is named after a Kansas adolescent who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021, would mandate that internet service providers disclose customers to the DEA if they have reasonable suspicion that they are engaging in illegal narcotics activity.

The Cooper-Davis Act

Under the Cooper-Davis Act, tech businesses would be required to notify users for suspected drug violations. If users of a certain platform were ever suspected of engaging in illegal conduct, the platform in question would be compelled to report the user’s details immediately to the DEA. Platforms that did not follow this rule were subject to severe penalties and risked legal action.

The Bill Is Fraught With Controversy

The measure has been criticized for the potential it has to open the door to widespread surveillance operations that circumvent the Fourth Amendment safeguards of internet users. Critics of the measure are concerned that the threat of accountability for digital companies that “willfully blind” themselves to drug activity on their platforms will discourage them from offering privacy-protecting services like end-to-end encryption.

On Thursday, many of the organizations that had previously spoken out against the bill’s passage issued comments strongly denouncing the committee’s decision. “The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote today to advance the Cooper Davis Act to the Senate floor is a misstep,” said Cody Venzke, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. Increased access to user data by law enforcement, weakened constitutional statutory warrant protections and exacerbated racial inequities in criminal drug enforcement are all consequences of this measure.

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Another group that has lobbied against the law is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the EFF’s Surveillance Litigation Director, Andrew Crocker, released a statement to Gizmodo. Crocker expressed displeasure, saying, “We’re disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would weaken already inadequate privacy laws and threaten the encryption we all rely on to stay safe online.”

Progress on the Bill

After weeks of discussion, the bill was approved by a vote of 16 to 5. The bill is now on its way to the Senate floor, where it will likely be debated and voted on in the near future.

Venzke, from the ACLU, told Gizmodo he is praying that the Senate’s leadership will exercise restraint and not move through with the bill. ‘The Senate will only be in session for a few more weeks until they break for the month of August,’ Venzke added. A lot of work needs to be completed in the next few weeks. The ability to pass it depends on whether or not they have it, he said. In the author’s words, “my hope is that even if this bill goes to the floor like others before it, Senate leadership will be wise enough to recognize that this is not the right balance between the goals of the bill and our privacy and freedom of expression online.”

Proponents’ View

The bill’s supporters argue that it will aid in suppressing the proliferation of online drug markets. Senator Marsha Blackburn, who is responsible for drafting the legislation, has claimed that “The Cooper Davis Act is a necessary step in the fight against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities.” She continued, “We can better protect our citizens and prevent more families from experiencing the heartbreak that the Davis family has endured by providing law enforcement with the tools to keep up with the constantly evolving tactics of drug traffickers.”

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Effects on Online Privacy

The Cooper Davis Act would have far-reaching consequences for online privacy if it were to become law. Users’ Fourth Amendment protections would be violated if tech companies were obliged to report user data to the DEA. Overreporting of innocent, protected speech is possible due to the legislation’s vague wording, and the fear of liability could lead to dragnet surveillance of private user communications.

Conclusion

Although the Cooper Davis Act has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, its ultimate fate is still unclear. Opponents claim the law is unnecessary, but privacy advocates are strongly against it. Given the bill’s nebulous language and propensity to lead to widespread surveillance programs, its passage might have serious consequences for online privacy.

FAQ

The Cooper Davis Act…what is it?

Answer: The Cooper Davis Act would mandate that corporations disclose customers to the DEA if they have reasonable suspicion that they are engaging in illegal drug activity online.

Who are the critics of the Cooper Davis Act, if anyone?

A: The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are just two of the many advocacy groups that have spoken out against the bill’s approval.

The Cooper Davis Act may have the following results.

Given the bill’s nebulous language and propensity to lead to widespread surveillance programs, its passage might have serious consequences for online privacy.

 

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.

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