New Senate bill aims to better protect health data after Roe reversal

The UPHOLD Privacy Act also seeks to stop the sale of location data for ad purposes.

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A new Senate bill aims to expand protections for Americans' health and location data. It follows concerns that such information could be used to identify individuals seeking reproductive health care services after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last year.

The Upholding Protections for Health and Online Location Data (UPHOLD) Privacy Act seeks to block companies from selling personally identifiable health data for advertising purposes and ban data brokers from buying and selling precise location data. Moreover, the proposed legislation would afford consumers more access to and ownership over their health data. It would also place more restrictions on companies’ use of personal health data without the explicit consent of a user.

The bill aims to prohibit the use of personally identifiable health data from any source for advertising. This includes data from users themselves, medical centers, fitness trackers and browser histories. The UPHOLD Privacy Act's restrictions wouldn't apply to public health campaigns.

The legislation was introduced by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono. “With Republicans working to ban and criminalize reproductive health care nationwide, it’s critical we safeguard the reproductive data privacy of everyone in our country,” Hirono said in a statement. “Everyone should be able to trust that personal data about their bodies and their health care will be protected. By restricting the sale and use of personally identifiable health data, this bill will give patients and providers the peace of mind that their private information is secure.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, legislators have not made much headway toward protecting consumer health data. Period-tracking apps have given some particular cause for concern. Developers of some of these apps have since introduced features and policies to help protect their users' data.

The Federal Trade Commission said soon after the Supreme Court ruling that it would clamp down on companies which misuse health and location data. This week, the agency moved to ban online counseling service BetterHelp from sharing consumers' health data for ad targeting without consent. The FTC found that the company shared users' email addresses, IPs and health questionnaire responses. BetterHelp says it has never shared clinical data from therapy sessions with advertisers, publishers or social media companies.