For many in LGBTQ+ communities, the internet is a literal lifeline, especially as a place where we can connect remotely when it is impossible or dangerous to do so in-person. And while data privacy is important for all technology users, it is not an exaggeration to say that, if or when online privacy is compromised or breached for LGBTQ+ users and other marginalized groups, the implications can be life-threatening.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to intense anti-Asian hate, and the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ Asians and Pacific Islanders have been particularly and disproportionately impacted. A 2021 survey from the Trevor Project found that 65% of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and 60% had symptoms of major depressive disorder. Even more devastating is that 38% of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide, and 12% attempted suicide.
It’s clear that data privacy is as much of a digital security issue as it is a physical security issue. Without proper online privacy controls and safeguards, breaches in data privacy that expose anything related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity can have wide-reaching negative implications for the LGBTQ+ community. These include real-world risks of harassment, threats of violence, physical harm or death, extortion, and loss of employment and familial relationships. At a time when we are all relying on the internet to stay connected more than ever, we need comprehensive federal data privacy rules in place to keep our communities safe online and offline.
Enacting federal data privacy laws will allow our communities to safely continue using these life-saving digital resources. Because of the powerful communities built online, LGBTQ+ individuals are avid internet and online platform users and creators. A survey conducted by LGBT Tech found that 81% of LGBTQ+ youth have searched for health information online, compared to just 46% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. Further, 80% of LGBTQ+ respondents participate on social media sites, compared to 58% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
When users and their information is properly protected, the internet can be a powerful tool for social good- fostering community, building acceptance, and connecting all individuals to life-affirming and life-saving health information and resources. Ultimately, uniform privacy rules will provide our community with a greater sense of security and confidence to take advantage of all the internet has to offer. Federal privacy legislation would provide consistent guidelines for all internet companies, across all websites, content, devices, and applications – protecting all users, no matter who they are and where they live.
Consumers need proper, consistent protections in place of today’s patchwork of state laws and regulations. As lawmakers continue to debate the future of our connected society through their efforts to bridge the digital divide, they must also take up data privacy with a renewed sense of urgency. Our reliance on digital tools and services to connect to friends and loved ones, learn, work, and more, will remain long after the pandemic. We’re creating ever-more data, and it’s up to Congress to help ensure that our digital information does not fall into the wrong hands.