Private data companies are monitoring what Americans do online and compiling lists of rape victims, seniors with dementia, and people suffering from HIV and AIDS to sell to marketers.
A privacy group told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday this breach of privacy is a big reason why the government needs to regulate data brokering.
The World Privacy Forum says Congress must "remove unsafe, unfair, and overall just deplorable lists from circulation."
Data companies offer lists based on any demographic or economic status, such as the category "Rural and Barely Making It."
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Mailing addresses for domestic violence shelters and police officers are also made available. Lists of people suffering from various illnesses, like substance abuse and addiction problems, are sold.
Currently the only privacy reserved under federal law is consumer data when it is used for credit, employment, insurance or housing.
Data companies can even find out what drugs people are taking based on their purchases of over-the-country drugs and other health-related items.
"This is where I urge Congress to take action," World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon told Congress on Wednesday. "Highly sensitive data are the frayed and ugly ends of the bell curve of lists, far from the center. This is where lawmakers can work to remove unsafe, unfair and overall just deplorable lists from circulation."
Dixon said a list of 30,000 police officers’ home address could lead to countless lives put in danger.
Committee Chairman John "Jay" Rockefeller was disgusted by the lack of oversight.
"I think it's our job as government to ... bring into sunlight what is going on," Rockefeller said. "I think it's serious, and I think it's a dark underside of American life, in which people make a lot of money and cause people to suffer even more."
Linda Wooley, president of the Direct Marketing Association, said the list are only a "tiny minority" of targeted marketing.
"We recognize that there are situations in which lists are being used to disparage certain groups," Wooley said. "That is not something that DMA supports."