Three reasons scientists believe bugs are the next beef

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

There’s a thin line between hunger and disgust when deep-fried tarantulas and smoked barbeque crickets are on the menu. Many scientists argue that animal protein is not environmentally sustainable, so alternatives–like bugs–may be the answer to the perils of global warming. Recent research supports eating bugs as a way to maintain a protein-rich diet while benefiting the environment.

Infographic comparing the water, feed, and land needs of cattle against the same needs for bugs farming

Why bugs are slowly crawling into our everyday diets

As the world population continues to grow, so will demand for animal protein. By 2050, we’ll be eating more than two-thirds the animal protein we do today, causing a strain to our planet’s resources. The surge in demand for animal protein has also contributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). These gases lead to extreme weather conditions, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. Even today, climate changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.

Most westerners prefer beef over bugs

While many of us westerners may gag at the thought of maggots in our sausage, more than 2 billion people throughout the world have been eating bugs as a regular part of their diets for millennia. But historically, for westerners, livestock not only yields meat, but also milk and milk products, their hides or skins provide warmth, they are suitable for plough traction, and act as a means of transport. Because of the use of these animals, the benefits of eating insects in many societies has failed to gain much interest. Also, certain insects are transmitters of disease and are virtually a nuisance.

So, why should we eat bugs?

In 2013, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, urged global citizens to eat more bugs for three reasons:

  1. They’re healthier for you…and tasty too!
    • Bugs are a healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish (from ocean catch).
    • Many insects are rich in protein, good fats, and high in calcium, iron, and zinc.
    • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.
    • Bugs can be used as an ingredient substitute for almost any recipe. Here’s a link with ideas on how to make some delicious bug treats!
  2. They’re safer for the environment
    • Bugs promoted as food emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock.
    • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require as much land as livestock.
    • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
    • According to the Harvard Political Review, producing one pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, and 200 square feet of pasture. In contrast, producing one pound of insects only requires two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and two cubic feet of land space.
  3. They’re lower in cost
    • Bug harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers economic opportunities to all levels of society.
    • Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Recent advances in research and development show edible bugs to be a promising alternative to meat for both human consumption and as feedstock. But to make this a reality, regulatory frameworks for safety and nutrition will need to be developed and government, industry, and academia will need to work together.

In the meanwhile, knowing the benefits can help turn disgust to hunger when tarantulas or crickets appear on the menu… Something to think about!

Coalition of consumer advocacy groups send letter DC Council regarding auto-renewal – National Consumers League

July 19, 2018

The Honorable Charles Allen
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20004

Dear Councilmember Charles Allen,

The undersigned 9 consumer and community advocacy groups urge your immediate action and support for Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 (B22-0020). The bill, which has been pending before the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee since January 2017, will prevent District residents from unknowingly becoming trapped in a complex web of hidden automatic renewal contract clauses they did not knowingly consent to.

In order to participate in commerce, consumers must sign lengthy fine print contracts. These contracts often contain automatic renewal clauses which will cause the contract or membership to renew automatically if the consumer fails to notify a merchant of their desire to cancel prior to a date of the merchant’s choosing. When these clauses are clearly disclosed, they can help consumers avoid service interruptions. However, unscrupulous merchants slip automatic renewal contract clauses into the fine print of contracts without properly disclosing their presence in order to trap consumers into lengthy contracts. The proliferation of these hidden automatically renewing contract clauses has caused one in three Americans to be tricked into agreeing to an automatically renewing contract.[i]

In the coming years, the trend of unscrupulous businesses hiding automatic renewal clauses in the fine print of contracts is unlikely to change. Deloitte predicts that online media subscriptions, subscriptions, which almost always contain these clauses, will grow by at least 20% in 2018.[ii] Fortunately, the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 would prevent these unwelcome financial surprises by:

  • Requiring clear disclosure of any automatic renewal clause; and
  • Requiring that a notification be sent to enrollees 30-60 days prior to the deadline for canceling a multi-month automatically renewing a contract

The unplanned expense that these clauses inflict on their victims is of particular concern for the socio-economically disadvantaged members of our community who are less able to weather surprise bills. Action on this issue is long overdue. In the absence of legislative action, District residents will continue to receive surprise bills for products or services they no longer need or desire.

Through Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act, the D.C. Council has a real opportunity to improve the lives of Washingtonians by granting District residents the tools they need to avoid becoming ensnared by unwanted automatically renewing contracts. We urge you to quickly take action and to provide District residents with this long overdue protection which is already enjoyed in several states across the country.

Sincerely,

Allied Progress
American Family Voices
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of California
DC Fiscal Policy Institute
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Consumers League
Tzedek DC
Workplace Fairness

Cc: Members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

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[i] Porche, Bradley. “Poll: Recurring charges are easy to start, hard to get out of,” Creditcards.com. August 21, 2017. Online: https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/autopay-poll.php

[ii] Deloitte. “Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions,” Pg. 41. 2017. Online: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/gx-tmt-predictions-press-release.html

‘Innovation’ = airline speak for finding new ways to gouge consumers

Brian YoungIf you have been listening to the airline industry, you may think that now is one of the best times to fly. According to its lobbyists, fares are down, and the airlines are working overtime to provide their customers with new and innovative products. However, in reality, if you have spent any time shopping around for a ticket, you are probably intimately aware that all of this “innovation” serves one purpose: to stifle what little competition remains in the airline marketplace and to implement new and creative ways to gouge consumers.

The Government Accountability Office, along with several independent researchers, have found that the proliferation of airline fees have allowed airlines to deceptively appear to be lowering fares while, in fact, they are quietly raising the real cost of travel. This nickel and diming allows airlines to rake in revenue–to the tune of $57 billion dollars a year–in so-called “ancillary fees,” in turn allowing the airlines to bring in record profits. In 2018, the industry is estimated to see a $38.4 billion profit margin.

Airline fees also serve another disturbing purpose: they stifle competition and prevent the free market from functioning properly by undermining the ability of consumers to comparison shop. Most of us are aware of the different fees airlines are now charging for carry-on bags, change fees, and even necessities like water. These fees can greatly complicate the comparison shopping process. The fee Delta charges for carry-on bags could be very different than the fee United charges; in this environment, expecting consumers to calculate the real costs based on fees and add-ons in order to compare real prices is absurd.

Airlines are now flexing their creative muscles to develop new fees that vary depending on the day of the week! Lufthansa, for instance, now has a fee that’s based on fluctuating ticket prices, exchange rates, “market-specific conditions,” and special offers. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic has a fare of $93 for one of its routes, but the airline tacks on carrier-imposed surcharges of $320 and government taxes of $225, which increase the ultimate price of the ticket more than 5-fold.

Unsurprisingly the ever-growing list of varying fees has made it difficult for consumers to comparison shop. Staying updated on the new fees airlines have tacked on can become a full-time job. While some online travel agents and meta-search sites do their best to inform users of the new list of fees, (Google Flights for instance, now allows you to search for flights that include carry-on bag fees in the price of the ticket and will soon add an option to search for flight prices that include checked bags) by and large, the burden of determining what fees one is liable for is carried by the consumer.

In addition to just making comparison shopping complicated, many airlines such as Delta and Southwest also take another approach: prohibiting websites from displaying their fares alongside competitors’ completely. Southwest Airlines has long taken this approach, forcing consumers to go directly to its website to determine the price of a flight.

The industry’s refusal to share fare and schedule data has had a measurable detrimental impact on airline passengers. One industry study found that this practice could cost passengers upwards of $6 billion dollars per year (or $30 per ticket). Even more concerningly, the same study found that if this practice continues, more than 40 million Americans could refrain from flying due to sticker shock.

Fortunately, in 2016 Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx began investigating whether consumers are harmed when airlines restrict their schedule and fare information. However, once the Trump Administration took over the DOT (the relevant cop on the beat for this type of deceptive practice), the agency suspended the investigation, saying that forcing airlines to allow comparison shopping was not needed.

As this administration has signaled a lack of interest in transparent markets, Congress must now act to ensure that competition can once again thrive in the air travel marketplace. At the National Consumers League, we have long believed that an informed consumer is an empowered consumer and that in order for markets to function properly, consumers must be able to comparison shop. If airlines hide behind wildly fluctuating fees and conceal their fare and schedule information from consumers and online travel sites, consumers cannot make informed purchases. It is for this reason than NCL will continue to advocate for transparency in the airline marketplace, both in our advocacy to do away with arbitrary fees, as well as in our work to make sure that passengers can continue to shop around for the best price.

National Consumers League applauds the Department of Justice for bringing phone scam perpetrators to justice – National Consumers League

July 24, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today commended the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for its crackdown on impersonation scams targeting vulnerable Americans. Last week, following their arrest in 2017, 24 perpetrators of a phone scam in which fraudsters extorted money from victims by impersonating IRS agents, or employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. The following statement is attributable to James Perry, Customer Services Coordinator and John Breyault, Vice President, Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, both of the National Consumers League:

“Imposter scams consistently rank amongst the most prevalent scams reported to NCL’s Fraud.org campaign. Last year alone, Americans lost a whopping $327 million to scammers who were impersonating individuals or government agencies. With the DOJ’s announcement that they have ended a massive operation that extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from vulnerable consumers, Americans can feel a little bit safer from a threatening phone call from a scammer. While we applaud the DOJ for this hard-won victory, we must all continue working hard to both educate consumers about this scam and redouble our efforts to put other perpetrators of this scam behind bars.”

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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 https://nclnet.org.

Being Financially Fragile in America – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Nearly 36 percent of working Americans could not cover an unexpected $2,000 expense within 30 days. According to a survey done by the 2015 National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), working adults (ages 25 – 60) who answered “probably not” or “certainly could not” to the question of whether they could come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Such consumers are considered “financially fragile.”

The 2015 Survey for Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) also revealed that 41 percent of respondents are considered financially fragile when faced with an emergency expense of $400. 41 percent said they would have to charge this unexpected expense to a credit card or use money from a savings account.

These statistics are not surprising considering that during the recession of 2008, nearly 50 percent of working adults were considered financially fragile.

Who is financially fragile?

  • Women (42 percent) are significantly more likely to be economically stressed than men (29 percent)
  • Financial fragility decreases steadily with increasing income, thus, paying workers more decreases their precarious finances
  • Financial fragility is about equally distributed across age groups, although fragility is slightly higher among 40- to 49-year-olds

According to a NEFE Digest article, a number of factors can cause financial fragility. A lack of assets include things such as low borrowing capacity on credit cards, inadequate health insurance, renting a house instead of owning and lack of access to traditional bank accounts. The second is debt, including medical, education and credit card debt. Some of these issues can be addressed with improved financial literacy.

The NCL is especially interested financial fragility in the U.S. for reasons that sync up perfectly with our mission: protecting workers and paying them a fair wage and ensuring consumer protections from predatory practices like payday loans and bank fees and excessively high interest on student or auto loans. We also agree with NEFE Digest that financial literacy reduces financial risk because consumers make better, more informed decisions when they have more knowledge and information. NEFE Digest notes that better financial literacy lowers one’s likelihood of being financially fragile–regardless of age or income.

Financially literate consumers bolster the overall health of the economy. This is why programs such as NCL’s LifeSmarts program, which educates youth the environment, health and safety, personal finance, technology and their rights as consumers, are so important. Financial literacy education should start young and continue throughout adulthood. Doing so reduces the risk to all consumers that they will become financially fragile.

Imposters, information theft, and internet scams: the dangers of unregulated online pharmacies – National Consumers League

By NCL Food Policy and LifeSmarts Caleigh Bartash

With technology improving rapidly over the past few decades, online retailers have proved more convenient, reducing the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. However, the convenience of purchasing prescription medication online or over the phone can inadvertently trap consumers in internet scams.Countless issues can arise from ordering prescription medication online. Unapproved internet dealers often evade government recognition or detection, failing to comply with drug safety regulations. Consumers can receive counterfeit, contaminated, or expired drugs. In some cases, these drugs may contain deadly opioids like fentanyl. Unauthorized medications can also have varying amounts of a medicine’s active ingredient — if they contain the correct ingredient at all.

Consumers may be attempting to access medications that they have previously been prescribed. However, they face security threats as soon as they give their personal details to an illegitimate pharmacy. These sellers have poor security protections, with leaks of sensitive customer information all too common. Illegitimate online sellers may even outright sell consumer data to scammers. Moreover, these websites can trick unsuspecting consumers into downloading viruses which further risk personal property and information.

Counterfeit drugs, unauthorized data sharing, and cyber attacks are dangerous, but now, a new threat has emerged involving counterfeit letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the FDA released a press announcement alerting consumers to fraudulent warning letters claiming to be sent from the government. They advised that any consumer who received a warning message is likely the victim of a scam.

The July 2018 FDA press announcement is unique in that it is targeted directly to consumers. Commonly, these warning letters are used as a tool to inform the public about drug safety issues and are typically sent exclusively to manufacturers and companies creating products under their jurisdiction. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summarized the FDA’s policy, stating “we generally don’t take action against individuals for purchasing a medicine online, though we regularly take action against the owners and operators of illegal websites.”

What’s next for those that received a warning letter? The FDA requests that potential victims contact them with information, including pictures and scanned documents if possible, in an effort to help them investigate the scams. Consumers can use the email address FDAInternetPharmacyTaskForce-CDER@fda.hhs.gov as the primary channel for communicating with the agency about suspicious warnings.

The best way to avoid falling victim to any scam involving illegal internet pharmacies is to abstain from suspicious websites. How do you distinguish fake internet pharmacies from safe ones? The FDA offers guidance with their BeSafeRx campaign. Asking a few simple questions at the doctor’s office or calling a certified pharmacist can help consumers protect themselves. Safe online pharmacies usually offer information including address, contact information, and state license. Consumers should be wary if the pharmacy does not require prescriptions to access pharmaceutical drugs. Other warning signs include international addresses, clear spam messages, and unreasonably low prices.

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Have more questions about fraud? NCL’s Fraud.org site has prevention tips, an outlet for consumer complaints, and an experienced fraud counselor to teach you how to avoid common scams. And for those wanting to learn more about proper medication consumption, our Script Your Future initiative has helpful advice and information so you can navigate your prescriptions with the utmost confidence.

BlackRock: Promoting shareholder activism – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Many consumers think of money management companies, such as BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group, and State Street Corp., to be solely interested in the finance market and ways to strengthen their investment portfolios. Turns out this isn’t entirely the case. 

The recent action of Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., calling on shareholders to better articulate long-term plans and spell out how their organizations can contribute to society in a positive manner, is a stellar example of a company promoting shareholder activism.

According to a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year, Fink stated that BlackRock Inc. plans toover the next three yearsdouble the size of the team that engages with other companies regarding their societal impact. Fink also states that this team will be investigating corporate strategies that can be used when collaborating with investors and shareholders.

Fink states in his annual letter that investors must “understand the societal impact of your business, as well as the ways that broad structural trends—from slow wage growth to rising automation to climate change—affect your potential for growth.”

This statement by Fink caught NCL’s eye as a positive and productive move on the part of the finance industry. It is crucial that money management companies understand their societal impact and ways in which their investments affect structural trends—such as climate change and unemployment. We hope to see other money management companies follow suit.

National Consumers League deeply concerned about Kavanaugh’s anti-consumer, anti-labor record – National Consumers League

July 12, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization today expressed its deep concern about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the National Consumers League (NCL), this is a critical moment in American history where the rights of consumers and workers hang in the balance.

“After reviewing his extensive record, we believe that Judge Kavanaugh is an extremist who is out of step with American values and in conflict with our mission to protect consumers and workers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We are particularly concerned about Kavanaugh’s record on crucial healthcare access decisions. We can’t afford as a country to step backwards when it comes to providing care for our nation’s families.” 

On the issues: consumer concerns

Abortion access. Kavanaugh consistently votes to limit access to abortion services. Just last year he dissented from a decision to allow an undocumented pregnant teenager in federal custody access to abortion. Judge Kavanaugh wrote that the majority’s reasoning was “based on a constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong: a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

Affordable Care Act. When ruling on Seven-Sky v. Holder, Kavanaugh dissented from the majority opinion on the Affordable Care Act, which upheld its constitutionality.

Contraception coverage. In 2015, Kavanaugh dissented from the Court of Appeals’ decision not to rehear a case upholding an accommodation offered by the Obama Administration on access to contraception for employees of religious organizations.

Net neutrality. Judge Kavanaugh dissented from a full DC Court of Appeals decision on net neutrality. Judge Kavanaugh rejects the idea that Internet providers should remain neutral. His dissent included the following arguments: “The government can no more tell internet service providers what content to carry than it can tell bookstores what books they can sell,” and “The net neutrality rule is unlawful because the law impermissibly infringes on internet service providers’ editorial discretion.”

Hostility towards workers

Limiting collective bargaining. In 2007, Kavanaugh gave the Defense Department a temporary win against its 700,000 civilian workers, represented by a union coalition led by the Government Employees (AFGE). Kavanaugh wrote that the 2004 Bush-era Defense Department law gave Bush’s DOD temporary authority to curb civilian defense workers’ collective bargaining rights. Dissenting justices said Kavanaugh would let the government “abolish collective bargaining altogether.”

Undocumented workers’ right to organize. Kavanaugh, dissenting in a 2008 case involving Agri Processor, Inc., a Brooklyn kosher meat packer, said undocumented workers can’t unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The appeals court majority said they could. 

Right to picket. In 2015, Kavanaugh gave the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas a win in a fight with union organizers over the right to picket on a public sidewalk. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled they could, under their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom assemble peaceably. The NLRB also tossed out the casino’s claims that the sidewalk, which was temporary due to road construction, was private property. The walk was on the Venetian’s land. “Where employers assert a private property right and ask the police to enforce that right against demonstrators, the employers are ‘seeking redress of wrongs committed against them.’”

“This is the most important Supreme Court vacancy in many years,” said Greenberg. “NCL stands with consumers and workers and with those groups who see the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as a threat to our values and our mission.”

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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 https://nclnet.org.

Regulations Can Save Lives, Like Ted’s – National Consumers League

Sarah Aillon, NCL internWritten by National Consumers League Intern Sarah Aillon

The Trump administration is waging war against regulations. In January, President Trump announced in his State of the Union address that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” Since entering Office, the Trump administration rolled back many environmental, and economic regulations which secure the health, safety, and security of the American people. While the Trump Administration boastfully describes these rollbacks as progress, many public protection advocates have sounded their alarms.

Earlier this June, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Georgetown Law organized a symposium which addressed the threat deregulation poses in the Trump era. Titled, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, the event featured a wide range of public protection advocates, including the mother of an accident victim, professors, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Their stories prove just how critical many regulations are for individual well-being and what happens when regulations do not monitor dangerous products.

little Ted

Janet McGee, an advocate on the event’s second panel, and described the harrowing death of her 22-month-old son, Ted. In 2016, the toddler was in his room napping. When Janet went in to check on him, she found Ted under a dresser that had fallen on him. Ted was unresponsive and cold but had a faint heartbeat. McGee started CPR and then rushed him to the hospital. Tragically, the boy passed away four short hours after she first found him.

McGee’s story is not outstanding: every 17 minutes someone in the United States is injured by falling furniture, televisions or appliances. These furniture tip-overs kill a child every two weeks.

Voluntary safety standards in the American furniture industry perpetuate the high risk of furniture tip-overs. Voluntary safety standards threaten the consumer’s safety and security. A Consumer Reports investigation tested 24 dressers against the industry’s voluntary safety standards and found only six dressers met the industry’s standards. In response to their findings, Consumer Reports suggested raising the test weight for furniture tip-overs from 50 pounds to 60 pounds and to apply tests to dressers that are 30 inches high and higher. Anchoring dressers to walls with brackets and straps is an effective strategy to prevent the problem, but few consumers are aware of the need to secure their furniture from tip-overs.

Voluntary safety standards make enforcement of furniture safety difficult. Companies can pick and choose what standards they comply with. Voluntary safety standards allow product design to remain poor and increase the threat of injury and death.

Ikea dresser safety diagram

The Ikea dresser responsible for the death of Janet McGee’s son did not meet safety standards. McGee’s Ikea dresser is not the only one from the company to fail their consumers. Over the course of 19 years, 8 children have died from Ikea dressers. As stated by McGee, the longstanding effects of furniture tip-over represent an industry-wide problem. However, with voluntary safety standards, little enforcement or change occurs.

Despite the danger many dressers on the market hold, little has been done to resolve the threat. Safety standards remain voluntary instead of mandatory. “Parents should worry about their children for many reasons, but furniture falling on them should not be one of them,” said McGee. Eventually, Ikea offered to take back 29 million chests and dressers in the Malm line, but very few consumers knew about the recall. Tens of millions of the Malm dressers are thought to still be in use and unsecured today.

McGee’s tragic, cautionary tale is just one example of why consumer regulations are necessary. President Trump’s focus on slashing regulations endanger everyday people, favoring big business at consumers’ expense. Regulatory safeguards enable people to live and work safely. “Strong government rules matter. We cannot, we must not accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

To learn more about furniture tip-over and Janet McGee’s story, click here.

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Sarah Aillon is a rising senior at Dickinson College pursuing dual degrees in Political Science and History. She is passionate about the National Consumers League’s work and is a child labor policy intern with them this summer.

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.