Bill Would Extend DMCA-Style Takedowns To 'Personal Info'

from the this-won't-end-well dept

There are certainly concerns from many people about the fact that it’s difficult to get certain information to go away online. Hell, there’s an entire industry built around the idea of trying to either remove or hide any “bad info” about you online. However, it looks like there’s a new bill in Congress that would be a disaster for free speech and would have incredible unintended consequences. It’s an attempt to extend DMCA-style takedowns for any “personal info” posted online. This comes just as more people are recognizing that such takedowns have a high likelihood of being unconstitutional. In this case, the so-called “Cyber Privacy Act” would require any website that allows open posting of content to provide “a means for individuals whose personal information it contains to request the removal of such information” and would then be required to “promptly remove the personal information of any individual who requests its removal.”

Notice that there is no other option. You can’t respond as to why that content is reasonable and should be left available. You can’t defend basic freedom of speech. In fact, this is even worse than a DMCA-style notice-and-takedown regime, which at least has a process of counternotices and the allowance that content can be put back up under certain conditions. That does not exist in this case. And what constitutes “personal information”? According to the bill:

As used in this Act, the term ‘personal information’ means any information about an individual that includes, at minimum, the individual’s name together with either a telephone number of such individual or an address of such individual.

The bill was introduced by Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, and it seems like one of those bills that someone rushed out after hearing some moral panic about people’s information being online. But it looks like Rep. McCotter never bothered to think through the unintended consequences of making it easy to demand content be taken offline with no recourse. In many cases, things like your name, address or telephone number are, in fact, public information — and even if you don’t like that such content is out there, it doesn’t mean that it should be illegal. It’s not hard to see how this would be massively abused, just like the DMCA takedown process and create a pretty big burden for all sorts of websites. About the only “good” thing I could see if this bill passed is perhaps we’d get a precedent that could be used to invalidate the DMCA’s takedown process as unconstitutional as well.

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Comments on “Bill Would Extend DMCA-Style Takedowns To 'Personal Info'”

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Mike C. (profile) says:

Maybe it's a push from the phone book publishers...

After all, with the advent of online phone number lookup (i.e., I can’t remember the last time I actually used a phone book to look up someone’s number. Even business numbers might get caught up in this if they are just using their name (i.e. Joe Accountant, CPA).

What’s really scary is that I could see this process being abused with fake notices during an election by rogue voters looking to hurt the opposition. Heck, that could be done against any group with a name and phone number on their site.

Scary stuff.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Has a use...

I can see a use for this for websites like Facebook or MySpace where the person who requests the information be removed is the person who put it there in the first place. If I put information out there, I should have the right to take it down later.

As long as they limit the bill to situations like that, I don’t have a problem with it.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Has a use...

If I put information out there, I should have the right to take it down later.

Why’s that? You gave the information away. It’s not yours anymore.

I can put out a sign offering free lemonade and later take down the sign – I can’t ask you to give back the lemonade I’ve already given you – but I can put an end to giving out more lemonade. I should have the same rights with my private info.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Unintended?

“Why would you think that restriction of free speech in a new bill is an unintended consequence?”

I thought the exact same thing. Just another step along the government feature creep. One of my friends was shocked this morning, telling me he read in the newspaper that IL lawmakers were trying to get Nat’l Guardsmen to be deployed on the streets of Chicago to help with policing the general public.

Me? I just can’t believe it’s taken them this long and I can’t wait to see what happens when they try it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Think of the children!

Just because criminals can use the web, like cars, to commit crimes is no reason to create laws that can have very broad implications. Also, I doubt this would work. Anti Spam laws have done absolutely nothing to stop spam. People will simply host their material inside other countries where the U.S. would be powerless to stop it. All these laws would do is be abused, just like every other law in the U.S. , simply to censor information that shouldn’t be censored and they will do absolutely nothing to stop incidents like the one you mentioned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Think of the children!

Also, this law wouldn’t stop the incident you site. It wouldn’t do anything. No one would have used this law to take down information about the victim in your case, especially when it’s the victim him/her self posting the information. Even if the parents would, they likely didn’t even know what was going on until it was too late and had they known what was going on earlier it would have been stopped without these laws. To say that these silly laws would have stopped the incident you mention above is very very unlikely. Good parenting is the solution, not retarded laws.

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Not really sure what that has to do with anything. Why are you allowed to throw others around like a rag doll and treat them like your personal bitch just because they are using some info that pertains to you, whether it’s commercial or not?

In fact, it does seem that most valuable usages of personal info would be tied in somehow to commercial business models.
The less viable we make it for businesses to make money and be innovative, the less we progress as a society and the more we hinder quality of life.

Oni (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@ Ryan

You sound like a marketing manager for a time share company. To say that society can’t progress without companies having the ability to gather your personal information and use it in whatever way they want, is in short, an idiotic statement.

I’m all for free speech, believe me. And I take great care in not spreading my life throughout the internet for any jackass marketing firm to gather up. But more often then not, it’s the companies we do business with that seem to think it’s okay to take whatever information they can get from us and sell it to other companies that feel the need to post this information somewhere. “Hey look, once a week Jack rents porn from the local DVD store!” That’s none of their business. And now Jack’s neighbors can see what Jack’s favorite is. Oh and while they’re at it, lets see what his credit score is too. “Uh oh… he’s late on his mortgage again.”
Is this really the advancement of society?

There is a fine line to free speech and personal privacy. I should be able to say what I want about who I want in my blog, as long as I’ve spoken the honest truth. That doesn’t mean I want the government to know what books I’m purchasing or corporations to know that I just paid $7 for a box of Tampex. Catch 22? Perhaps. But without laws to define personal privacy in clarity, I’m subject to people like you, who want to send me a coupon for my next box of personal hygiene products. Thanks so much.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, not at all what I said and I have no desire whatsoever to send you a coupon for your next box of personal hygiene products. I, for one, cannot find anywhere online that publishes my most recent Tampex purchases or porn preferences despite no law such as the proposed currently existing.

What I did say(and here expanded) is that progress and innovation is greatly hindered by constantly making it impossible to do business without having ten lawyers on call and considering a trillion different laws that all place liability on providing services. Why do you suddenly have ultimate power over any data that references you?

Oni (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Seriously? Why shouldn’t I have power over any data that references me? Or at least decide who has that data and what purposes it can be used for.
Progress and innovation concerning the exploiting of my personal information should have a trillion laws attached to it. If it wasn’t such a mind field of “questionable integrity” you wouldn’t need to have ten lawyers on call. But because you choose to constantly find loopholes in the system, you have to have them to help you violate peoples lives. They are called “Privacy” laws for a reason, to protect my privacy.

Suppose you and I were doing business. And for no real reason I asked for your phone number, home address, and if you own your home or rent. Would you give it to me? Even if it really wasn’t necessary for the purchase? Or perhaps I just wanted an email address. I mean, hey, I need it so I can email you some coupons. It’s a “service” we provide to you. You know, to better your shopping experience with us. According to you, that would be just fine, right? Good. Because now, in the name of “Progress and Innovation” I’m going to sell your information to the highest bidder. I don’t even care what they are going to do with it. They however will find out your “personal” information, like; your email, phone, home address, what you’ve purchased and how you paid for it. That company can then aggregate that information with other “lists” it has bought, and sell that information to a fourth party marketing firm… so on and so forth. But I’m sure you know very well how it works, don’t you. Ultimately that information can go anywhere. Even to places you’d rather it didn’t. Some places it be accessed by people like myself, and some of them aren’t as honest as I am.

How does that sound, Ryan?
Ryan Mcfee
3126 StJames St.
Tamp Bay, Fl. 31762
Who drives an orange pinto, and buys pink condoms in bulk with his male friend Kevin.

What? Not you? Well, I’m sure it’s somebody. And under the new law they would be able to have this stricken from the site. 😉

ppartekim says:

There goes all the online Contact Managers

Now I can request removal from everybody’s online email/contact manager (, yahoo mail, mobileme, etc).

Next when will I be able to force people to remove me from all those silly personal paper phonebooks, rolodexes, etc. that some people still have. I want to be totally unreachable and privat


RobShaver (profile) says:

Alleged Abortion Providers

So if an alleged abortion provider’s photo, name and address were posted on a militant anti-abortion web site you don’t thing the person who’s name is posted should be able to get it removed? Or it should be really hard for it to be removed?

I agree there should be recourse. I agree it can be abused. Pretty much everything can be abused, however, even free speech.

I love this blog because it informs me of things I was not aware of. It would be great if it also gave more suggestions as to how to improve things too.

Niall (profile) says:

I’m more concerned with situations where convicted criminals claim ‘privacy’ so no-one knows that they offended (which is public knowledge) or people with similar or mistaken names being affected. What happens when someone typoes a common name or even has just a common one. Which Bill Smith/Smyth/Smythe do you remove? Do the rights of one trump all the others? How will mistakes be dealt with? How will anyone check if the actual person doing the request has the right to request it? What happens if someone doesa takedown to hurt some rival?

Plus, how will this work with the international nature of the net? What about search engines like Google? Online newspapers? Some information IS public and a matter of public record. Privacy is well and good, but there needs to be a due, challengeable process, as well as really good reasons.

And with phone books you are explicitly in unless you specifically request not to be.

Beta says:

Am I missing something?

I was amazed at the brevity of this bill, and puzzled by a part of it:

“[The website must] provide, in a clear and conspicuous location… a means for individuals whose personal information it contains to request the removal of such information…


(Also, although I appreciate arguments on both sides of this bill, I am against it because it is so clearly in defiance of the way information works, and will therefore not work as intended.)

“The arguments of lawyers and engineers pass through one another like angry ghosts.” — Bohm, Gladman, Brown

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