Last week, Access Now joined two public interest coalition letters in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The first letter, addressed to the U.S. Congress, calls on elected officials to uphold certain key data protection safeguards as the government considers COVID-19 relief packages, including ensuring necessity and proportionality, data minimization, and data use restrictions. Individuals retain certain fundamental rights when it comes to their data, and the pandemic response must take those rights into account.
The second letter, addressed to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and signed by over 250 organizations, calls on the agency to take three concrete steps to make it easier for individuals who need Lifeline service to get access during this crucial time: (1) prohibit disconnections of people already using Lifeline to connect; (2) require Lifeline providers to offer people unlimited voice and texting plans within one week; and (3) create an emergency Lifeline broadband benefit within 21 days. The Lifeline program plays an integral role in helping people with low income get connected by addressing the need to make communication services more affordable. As more Americans are expected to work, learn, and function at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these communication tools are absolutely critical for public health.
“Individuals, particularly marginalized individuals, throughout the United States are struggling to make ends meet, to stay safe, and to live life normally during the spread of COVID-19,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “Unfortunately, the government has done little to make their lives safer or easier. A pandemic is not the time to undermine privacy. Nor should the government be cutting people off from their phones and internet — the word ‘Lifeline’ has never been more appropriate for this vitally important program. The FCC must act quickly to ease the burdens of participating in Lifeline, with special consideration for the need for access to information and communication with others in communities at risk.”
As the global health crisis unfolds and the world grapples with how to respond, Access Now will continue to advocate for the full protection of digital rights, including the right to access information, for everyone. During these unsettling times, authorities have the duty to safeguard these rights, and we will work to hold them to account.