Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits

The Senate quietly passed a reform weakening the Video Privacy Protection Act

Topics: VPAA, Netflix, Facebook, Privacy, Congress, Senate,

After nearly two years of intense lobbying, Netflix has won the reform it needs to integrate its services with Facebook. Ars Technica first reported that the Senate quietly passed a reform to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) last week, giving video streaming companies the right to share your data for up to two years after asking for your permission once. (Mother Jones notes that “The Senate didn’t even hold a recorded vote: The bill was approved by unanimous consent”).

“But so many companies integrate their data with Facebook–so what?” you ask. So: this weakens what Mother Jones notes is one of the “the strongest privacy-related laws in the country” and has been for the last 24 years, ever since the VPAA was introduced in 1988. (Interestingly, the VPAA was created after failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s–now deceased–video rental records were obtained without his consent).

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Furthermore, the reform has so far gone unchecked. To balance the VPAA reform, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had called for updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law that currently allows the government to access most of your cloud-stored personal data without a warrant. Mother Jones explains:

Leahy always supported the video privacy changes. But his version of the Netflix bill, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in late November, would also have updated the ECPA. Civil libertarians saw Leahy’s proposal as a trade-off—in exchange for weakening the video privacy law, Congress would strengthen protections for your personal online content, including photo albums, documents, and archived emails. Video-streaming and rental companies wouldn’t have to ask permission every time they wanted to share your data, but the feds would have to obtain a warrant to access your online correspondence—just as they must if they want to read the letters in your desk at home.

Instead, the House picked up a version of the video privacy bill that didn’t have Leahy’s “added protections,” and on Tuesday, the Senate approved it.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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