Carpenter v. United States: Impacts on privacy legislation – National Consumers League

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last week in Carpenter v. United States will shape the relationship consumers have with their wireless devices and the services they use every day for years to come. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that by obtaining cell-site records, the U.S. government performed a search. By doing so without a warrant, this search was judged unconstitutional, violating petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights and reversing two previous decisions.

In the case, the FBI had requested records as part of an investigation into several Detroit-area armed robberies, and those records included details about call dates, times, and approximate locations. Carpenter asked that the cell phone evidence be suppressed because it was obtained in a search without a warrant.   

You’re thinking, “And? I’m not accused of armed robbery,” but it’s bigger than Timothy Carpenter. The Carpenter decision affects all of us, and in essence redefines government searches in a digital age.

Think of your relationship with your cell phone. According to Pew, 95 percent of Americans now own one. The same study found that for one in five of us, our smartphone is our sole source of Internet service. We carry them to work, to school, to our homes, and to meet up with friends. They go with us to our meetings, appointments, and vacations. They are a key vector through which we’re understood. Part of that is an unprecedented ability to locate us. When 95 percent of us are moving and communicating with our phones, and when 20 percent of us are using them as our only personal Internet connection, government access to when and where we use cell phones becomes an inroad to very intimate surveillance.

The FBI obtained records defined by the Court as “personal location information maintained by a third party” under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). SCA compels service providers to hand over records of electronically stored communications to government, without a warrant requirement, provided there is evidence for the information’s relevance to an ongoing investigation. Last week’s decision sets a new standard for expectations of digital privacy at a time when consumers and government are grappling with how to think about our lives online using documents drafted by the nation’s founders.

NCL has previously stated that consumer privacy is an integral part of the data economy, and we advocate for robust consumer protections in this space to encourage safe and secure use of online services. We applaud the Court’s decision and see it as an important step in the fight to safeguard consumers’ data in the United States and beyond.

Rebecca Kielty is spending the summer with John Breyault’s team, working on consumer privacy issues as NCL’s 2018 Google Public Policy Fellow. Rebecca received her B.A. from the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg and her M.A. from Georgetown University.

Automobile industry ignoring safety packages – National Consumers League

NCL Public Policy Intern Melissa Cuddington contributed to this post.

In November 22, 2004, Automotive News, the publication that covers the auto industry, ran one of my favorite editorials of all time:

“All safety related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles. No choice. It’s not an economic decision; it’s a moral decision. When the choice becomes profit vs. lives, the decision should be simple.”

This issue is more pertinent now than ever. The National Consumers League strongly supports enhanced auto safety technologies and, like the quote above says, it’s a moral decision to make safety technologies standard equipment. Case in point: driver-assist technology, has been available for about a decade in the United States. It includes automatic breaking, lane-changing aids, and cruise control, each of which has made driving safer.

One would think that these driver-assist programs would be included in “standard safety packages,” but they are not. As such, it’s sad to read that the auto industry is doing a poor job marketing and selling these systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, salespeople are apparently not being properly trained to discuss the benefits of these safety technologies. In a recent survey done by the MIT AgeLab, only six out of 17 car sellers were able to explain the safety technologies. In fact, many car salespeople say they don’t have the knowledge or the time to explain these packages. Car sellers are not incentivized to explain these technologies because they drive up the cost of the car and take “excessive” time in the showroom. What a loss! Thirty percent of traffic accidents and fatalities could be avoided if the majority of cars had these standard safety packages, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

This lack of enthusiasm for selling the safety that exists today is ironic. Automobile manufacturers are trying to rush through Congress a bill that gives nearly carte blanche for the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) with little regulation. Safety is one of the top reasons AVs are being touted by the auto industry as a means for greatly reducing auto injuries. But we are skeptical; just look how industry gives short shrift to the safety devices we have access to now!

There are notable exceptions. NCL applauds carmakers Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation for their plans to include safety packages in their standard car models, such as the 2019 Subaru Ascent and the 2018 Honda Accord. These companies have also made a concerted effort to keep prices down for models featuring the safety technology. We’d like to see them and their competitors expand these features to their whole fleet.

We urge the automobile industry take a second look at the cost of these driver-assist packages that aren’t standard equipment, to train their sales force to sell these lifesaving packages, and—most importantly—to start to include these safety packages in standard car models. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between affordability and safety. Like Automotive News said nearly 15 years ago, “All safety-related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles.”

Vaccine-averse ‘Hotspots’: A danger to all – National Consumers League

By Melissa Cuddington, NCL public policy intern

Think that measles has been eradicated from the United States? Think again. According to a report published earlier this month by PLOS Medicine, measles is still spread by unvaccinated children and foreign visitors to the United States. This spread is seen in “hotspots,” otherwise known as areas where the risk of disease is higher because parents choose to abstain from getting their children vaccinated. Parents continue to claim non-medical exemptions for issues of philosophy, and that’s dangerous.

A recent Washington Post article shined a light on the growing problem the anti-vaccination movement is creating: 18 states still allow parents to opt their children out of school immunization requirements. These hotspots are located across the country both in urban, metropolitan locations, such as Houston, Austin, and Pittsburgh and in rural areas as well.

In many of these urban centers, too many children are being exempted from immunization requirements, making it easier for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread and infect others. The Post article notes that these urban centers have busy airports, opening up the possibility for diseases to spread to the un-vaccinated.

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who remain unvaccinated are most likely the cause of the increased occurrence of measles and other contagious diseases being spread throughout the United States. The CDC also predicts the reemergence of these diseases if parents continue to skirt vaccination requirements.

Many of these diseases from the past are easily preventable if parents get their children vaccinated at a young age. Medical research shows that if children do not receive the measles vaccination (MMR) 12 to 15 months after birth, they are at risk of exposure.

Sadly the anti-vaccination movement in the United States has been going strong. At some point, parents need to consider that the decision not to get their child vaccinated is not just personal—it’s a communal one. The choice to abstain from vaccination puts vulnerable adults and children at risk. As the research demonstrates, this decision could expose others to possibly fatal diseases, which are entirely preventable with immunization.

As a consumer advocacy organization that champions vaccinations for all who can safely be vaccinated, NCL pushes against these non-medical exemptions. It is dangerous for parents to be making decisions for their children that can have adverse effects on others. NCL encourages state and federal health officials to support laws that don’t allow personal preference to prevent children from being immunized. California’s law is a good model and would keep us all safe from totally preventable diseases.

National Consumers League statement on Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME – National Consumers League

June 27, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy group, has announced its disappointment in today’s narrow 5-4 anti-worker and anti-union ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, in which the Court ruled that unions cannot collect “fair share fees” from workers who have not joined the union but receive the benefits of organizing.

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director:

Janus v. AFSCME is the unfortunate capstone of a decades-long assault on working Americans who choose to collectively stand up to improve their workplaces and their communities and is the result of a right-leaning court that favors business interests over workers.

The potential harm caused by this decision is great and will not only be felt by union members. Millions of individual consumers who rely on government services will feel the consequences of this decision as public servants choose to leave in search of better opportunities and as the ones who remain face greater workplace insecurity.  

The Supreme Court today sided against working families. We call upon Congress to step in to correct this injustice. Powerful lobbyists may have won today, but in the end working Americans understand the importance of joining together to create better working conditions. While this decision is disappointing, we will continue to fight alongside our labor allies for a fair and just workplace and marketplace.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

National Consumers League Announces Data Security and Technology Policy Fellowship – National Consumers League

June 27, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is pleased to announce the creation of the NCL Data Security and Technology Policy Fellowship. The fellowship, made possible through a generous unrestricted educational grant from Google, will be part of NCL’s ongoing #DataInsecurity Project, a consumer awareness and advocacy campaign to raise awareness in Washington and beyond about the impact of data breaches on consumers.

“Too often, the impact on users of technology policy decisions made in the halls of Washington, DC is an afterthought,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “Through this new fellowship, our goal is to raise awareness of the need for user-centered decision-making in Congress, at federal agencies, and in the states, particularly regarding data security, privacy, and online safety policy.”

NCL is delighted to announce that Sean Davis, Jr. will be the inaugural Data Security and Technology Policy Fellow. A 2017 graduate of George Washington University Law, Sean comes to NCL after stints with Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

“We are thrilled that Sean is joining our team,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president, public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. “His passion for the public interest in technology will be an amazing asset to our mission of promoting user-centric policymaking.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Feeling the pressure to go paperless? – National Consumers League

By Melissa Cuddington, NCL public policy intern

Feel forced to go digital or pay for paper bills and statements? You are not alone. Many consumers are beginning to push back against the “going paperless” trend that has become so popular among credit card and other companies that send bills to millions of consumers.

Charging for a paper bill is not a popular practice among consumers. In fact, according to a survey conduced by Toluna and Two Sides North America, 83 percent of American consumers believe that they should not be charged more as a result of opting for a paper bill. 

NCL and Consumer Action have agreed to work with “Keep Me Posted North America” (KMPNA), based out of Chicago, and yes supported by the paper industry — to raise these concerns. We happen to agree that preserving consumer choice when it comes to choosing what type of bill you receive is important. Keep Me Posted is working in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe. 

This specific issue is of significant importance when it comes to the work that NCL does on behalf of consumers and promoting their best interests in the marketplace. The campaign is currently working to represent more vulnerable consumers: seniors, low-income populations, the disabled, and those on Indian Reservations and in rural areas who may not have access to broadband. Charging them $3.50 or more because they choose a paper bill is just plain wrong. We believe anyone who chooses a paper bill should not have to pay for it. 

This consumer issue also has relevance to the increasing occurrence of digital fraud in the United States. According to a 2017 survey done by the Competition Bureau in Canada, digital fraud is increasing at a rapid rate. From 2011 to 2016, digital fraud increased significantly from $4.95 billion to $7.95 billion. This paperless trend is increasing the likelihood that consumers are the victims of telemarketing and Internet fraud. 

It is important that consumers, especially elders and those in low-income and rural areas have the option to receive a paper bill without incurring additional costs. For many Americans, $3.50 x 12 months is extra money they don’t have — and multiply times several bills and it really adds up. Additionally, the option of receiving a paper bill is seen as a more convenient and secure form of payment. In fact, 78 percent of people keep hard copies of important documents at home, because they believe it is the safest and most secure way to store their information (Two Sides North America, 2017). 

We believe this is a good coalition and one that will push hard to preserve consumer choice and do away with the odious practice of charging consumers who can least afford it for the convenience of a paper bill.

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.


Throwing away the stigma about frozen foods – National Consumers League

By NCL intern Melissa Cuddington

Over the last decade, an influx of farmer’s markets and organic certified products has accompanied increased demand for fresh food and healthy living among American consumers. This trend is partly responsible for the stigma surrounding frozen food in the grocery store as always second-best to fresh foods.

This movement towards organic, local, and fresh products has overshadowed consumers looking for more affordable, healthy, and convenient options at mealtimes. With a significant 43 percent of millennials buying frozen foods last year, this sector of the food industry is worth looking at in depth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 10 percent of Americans consume the recommended daily amount of vegetables. This under-consumption of a crucial food group high in vitamins and minerals has given the frozen food industry a much needed boost to re-brand its products, shifting the focus to taste and nutrition.

According to a Food Dive article, increasing consumer interest in frozen foods has coincided with “quick-freeze technology” becoming more commonplace among food manufacturers and retailers. A “quick freezer” is a specialized product that decreases the amount of freezing time, while also increasing production. This new technology is more effective at “keeping nutrients and flavor in the products,” making it a more enjoyable consumer experience.

This improved technology, along with the industry responding to consumer calls for increased convenience and nutrition has led to an uptick in the frozen food market share. According to Food Dive, frozen foods are seeing an increase in sales, with category volume growth up 1 percent from the 12 weeks ending March 10 (RBC Capital Markets).

According to a recent Washington Post article, frozen food manufacturers have increasingly produced and marketed vegetables such as cauliflower and spiralized veggies, both of which are healthy, low-calorie alternatives to carb-rich, much-loved foods such as pasta and potatoes. Not to mention the fact that frozen food is more affordable and convenient when it comes to putting together a healthy meal. Cauliflower provides as a good point of comparison seeing that it has become increasingly popular among consumers at the grocery store. For example, 10 oz. of fresh, organic cauliflower from Kroger costs $3.49, compared to 12 oz. of “meal-ready,” frozen cauliflower for $1.19.  

At the heart of NCL’s food policy mission is the belief that Americans deserve a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply. This mission includes advocating for access to healthy food at reasonable prices. The nutritious and healthy products that have been developed recently by the frozen food industry provide ample opportunity for consumers to properly nourish their families.

It is about time that American consumers do-away with the negative stigma surrounding frozen foods, seeing that many of these new products are just as healthy, nutritious and significantly more convenient than fresh food – just as millennials are increasingly demanding available frozen food products in grocery stores.

Melissa recently graduated with a Political Science & International Studies degree from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She is interning at NCL for the summer before attending law school in the fall.

Leading consumer organizations decry ‘mutual fund industry giveaway’ by SEC – National Consumers League

June 6, 2018

Contact: Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry (202) 544-3088, NCL’s Sally Greenberg (202) 207-2830

Washington, DC–Despite overwhelming opposition to abandoning the default paper format delivery method for mutual fund disclosures, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday voted behind closed doors to ignore investor sentiment and allow funds, as of Jan. 1, 2021, to deliver shareholder reports online, with a paper notice of online availability sent by mail. The adoption of Rule 30e3 flips the current process on its head—investors who already have chosen to receive paper mutual fund reports will now have to take the trouble to reach out to funds to request that paper versions (continue to) be mailed to them.

The National Consumers League (NCL) and Consumer Action have worked for more than two years to ensure that the delivery of paper fund disclosures wasn’t flipped. The organizations have filed comments opposing Rule 30e3, spoken at SEC Investment Advisory Committee meetings, and urged investors to press for the paper default. They were expecting to hear a public discussion of the rule at the SEC’s public meeting on June 5, before it was pulled from the agenda the evening before and circulated for written consent from the commissioners in lieu of a meeting.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said: “We are very disappointed in the 4-1 vote—taken behind closed doors—from the SEC to make it more difficult for mutual fund investors who want paper documents to get fund disclosures delivered in paper; an SEC survey in 2011 found that one-third of consumers say they prefer paper copies of their mutual fund reports. The mutual fund industry trade association estimated in 2016 that this will save investors $2 billion in printing and mail costs over 10 years. The winners are clearly the companies, the losers are those consumers who need or want access to paper versions of fund disclosures and will have to know to sign up for paper delivery. We are disappointed the SEC didn’t take into account the extensive evidence that the change is likely to reduce investor readership of key disclosures.”

Linda Sherry, director of Consumer Action’s DC office, said: “More than 90 percent of the comments submitted to the SEC in 2016 opposed the idea to make electronic delivery the default delivery method for shareholder reports. Despite the concerns raised, which included lack of access to the internet by vulnerable populations, exposure to online fraud and difficulty of reading reports on mobile devices, the SEC chose to vote on its proposal before the public was able to read it.”

Currently (and for close to 20 years) investors have the option of requesting e-delivery. Some estimates say as many as half of all mutual fund investors have chosen e-delivery already. Those who have chosen to keep paper delivery will, under the new rule, be bothered to act to ensure paper reports keep coming. The new measure is an example of “negative consent—or “passive consent”—which means failure to take action is interpreted as agreement. This method of notification is know to decrease consumer participation and likely will reduce investor readership of important disclosures about fund performance, costs and makeup.

While the rule offers the switch to e-delivery as an “optional” method for delivering shareholder reports, it is highly unlikely that the mutual fund industry will choose to leave the status quo of paper statement delivery.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.