For a course in social policy, we were required to select a member of Congress from our state and do the following: identify their political affiliation and many pieces of legislation they have sponsored or cosponsored in the current congressional period; select a a bill they have sponsored or co-sponsored and discuss why we picked it, the social problem it is meant to address, what prompted them to sponsor the bill, what the legislative status of the bill is, what support the bill has or could have and why or why not; and write a paragraph to representative from the opposite party in the state sharing our advocacy position. Here’s what I wrote on the SMARTWATCH Data Act and Beyond the Box for Education Act of 2019:
Senator Bill Cassidy
Bill Cassidy is a Republican who has represented the state of Louisiana in the Senate since 2015. As a member of the 116th Congress he has sponsored 47 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored 122. One piece of legislation Senator Cassidy has sponsored is S. 2885, a bill with the short title “Stop Marketing And Revealing The Wearables And Trackers Consumer Health Data Act.” or “SMARTWATCH Data Act.”
I chose this bill for analysis because it attempts to tackle a growing social concern about data privacy and security – specifically health information gathered by wearable technology (“wearables”) such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Samsung Galaxy Gear. Information technology trade publication Tech Republic reported that consumers of wearables “unknowingly expose themselves to both potential security breaches and ways that their data may be legally used by companies without the consumer ever knowing” (Maddox, 2015, par. 9) Hackers could get access to the cloud or server and exploit users’ sensitive information for financial or other gain. The companies that produce the devices could also exploit the data.
After tech giant Google bought Fitbit in November 2019, business and technology media reported on a little-known partnership between Google and Ascension Health, “the largest nonprofit health system in the United States” (Marks, 2019, par. 1). This partnership, codenamed Project Nightingale, had gathered more than 50 million non-anonymized patient records between 2018 and 2019. This intensified concerns regarding what tech companies can do and plan to do with health information they have access to. Cassidy directly cited the Google/Ascension partnership in a press release announcing the legislation on November 14:
The Google/Ascension news has brought needed scrutiny to the security of Americans’ health data. The Smartwatch Act prevents big tech data harvesters from collecting intimate private data without patients’ consent. Americans should always know their health information is secure. (The Office of U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, 2019, par. 5)
The SMARTWATCH Act was introduced to the Senate on November 18, 2019, and referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee the same day. It remains in committee. It is described as “a bill to prohibit the transfer or sale of certain consumer health information, and for other purposes” (S. 2885, 2019). Co-sponsored by Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat representing Nevada, the bill is a bipartisan piece of legislation. I believe this bill has bipartisan support because, for conservatives, it offers protection of individual property (data) rights, and for liberals, it offers government regulation of the market to protect society from exploitation by the tech sector. More members of both parties should support this legislation because both parties in this Congress are interested in passing data privacy legislation. In 2018, Republican Senator John Thune said, “the question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers’ privacy. The question is what shape it should take” (Kerry, 2019, par. 2) In the shape of S. 2885, the law would classify consumer health information as protected health information protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), hold companies accountable by requiring informed consent for data usage, and decrease the possibility of an outcome Republicans want to avoid (a patchwork of conflicting state consumer data privacy laws). This makes the policy attractive to both parties.
Letter to Congressman Cedric Richmond in Support of S. 2885
Senate Bill 2885 (2019), the SMARTWATCH Data Act, would help protect sensitive information gathered by wearable tech devices like Apple Watches. As tens of millions of Americans use these devices and tech companies gain access to more of our data, I believe we need federal protections in place to help ensure companies are neither careless nor malicious with consumer health information. The SMARTWATCH Data Act is sponsored by Republican Senator Bill Cassidy and co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen. It deserves further bipartisan support because both parties want data privacy laws, and this bill affirms consumers should control our own data and companies collecting that data have a responsibility for its security. Therefore, I ask that you add your support to this legislation.
Congressman Cedric Richmond
Cedric Richmond is a Democrat who has represented Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives since 2011. During the 116th Congress, he has sponsored 16 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored 252. Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, or H.R. 2563, is one piece of legislation he has sponsored.
I selected this legislation for analysis because it addresses social barriers faced by people who have juvenile or criminal records. In its current state, the bill declares statistics that “70,000,000 Americans have some type of arrest or conviction record that would appear in a criminal background check” and “the compounding effects of collateral consequences due to criminal justice involvement hinder the ability of individuals to reenter society successfully” (S. 2885, 2019). It also acknowledges race and class disparities in criminal justice system involvement and that education may reduce recidivism and “improve reentry outcomes” and employment opportunities (S. 2885, 2019).
“The Box” referred to in the bill’s title is a checkbox – commonly found on employment and school admissions applications – that enquires about an applicant’s criminal justice information (CJI). In its 2016 Beyond the Box Resource Guide, the U.S. Department of Education reported a survey in which 66% of post-secondary schools collected CJI for all students and 5% collected it for some students. The Department cautioned that one school requiring applicants reveal CJI caused the attrition among felony applicants to be nearly triple the overall applicant attrition rate, and the box unnecessarily limited schools’ applicant pools. They recommended that colleges and universities “look beyond the box by removing unnecessary barriers to higher education” because doing so would benefit the individuals and communities (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 10).
H.R. 2563 was introduced to the House on May 7, 2019 and referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor on the same day. The bill is identical to S. 1338 introduced in the upper house by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii on the same day and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Both bills remain in their respective committees. This legislation was co-sponsored by the late Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland. Since Cummings’ death in October 2019, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act has not gained new sponsors in the House. It’s identical legislation in the Senate has 18 co-sponsors, all Democrats. An official summary of the bill is in progress, but it’s stated aim is:
To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile justice questions from their application for admissions process. (H.R. 2563, 2019)
This bill aligns with Democratic party ideals regarding increased access to high-quality education and eliminating systemic racism, and currently, it only has support from Democrats. However, I believe this bill deserves and can gain bipartisan support. If enacted, this legislation would help Republicans work toward elements of the most recent party platform. For instance, the “Choice in Education” subsection of the party’s 2016 platform stated, “A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status” (Republican National Convention, 2016, p. 34) Further, the criminal justice reform subsection argued for “restorative justice to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path” (p. 40). Removing the box as a barrier to those with CJI pursuing education would allow their success to be based on their talent and motivation and not limited by their offender status, and it would help put them on the right path.
Letter to Congressman Ralph Abraham in Support of H.R. 2563
H.R. 2563, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, would create guidance for higher education institutions to remove “The Box” – questions about criminal and juvenile justice – from admissions applications. This legislation provides that, under the direction of the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Department of Justice, schools would review the appropriateness of criminal and juvenile justice questions in their applications and remove them if they deem appropriate. This would encourage previously discouraged applicants to continue pursuit of higher education, reduce recidivism, and promote safety and security in our communities by unblocking legal pathways to success gained through higher education. I believe these benefits represent values across party lines, and I support this legislation. I urge you to lend your support as well.
Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, H.R. 2563, 116th Congress, 1st Session, (2019).
Kerry, C. (2019, January 7). Will this new Congress be the one to pass data privacy legislation? [Blog post] Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2019/01/07/will-this-new-congress-be-the-one-to-pass-data-privacy-legislation/
Maddox, T. (2015, October 7). The dark side of wearables: How they’re secretly jeopardizing your security and privacy. Tech Republic. Retrieved from https://www.techrepublic.com/article/the-dark-side-of-wearables-how-theyre-secretly-jeopardizing-your-security-and-privacy/
Marks, M. (2019, Nov 20) “The Right Question to Ask about Google’s Project Nightingale.” Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/technology/2019/11/google-ascension-project-nightingale-emergent-medical-data.html.
Office of U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (2019, November 14). Rosen Bill Fixes Gap in Health Data Privacy Protections. [Press release] Retrieved from website: https://www.cassidy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cassidy-rosen-bill-fixes-gap-in-health-data-privacy-protections
Republican National Committee. (2016) Republican Platform 2016. Retrieved from http://www.gop.com/platform/renewing-american-values/.
Stop Marketing and Revealing the Wearables and Trackers Consumer Health Data Act, S. 3885, 116th Congress, 1st Session, (2019).
U.S. Department of Education (2016). Beyond the box: Increasing access to higher education for justice-involved individuals. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/documents/beyond-the-box/guidance.pdfBottom of Form