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Tech / Civil Liberties

Barton: Rent-To-Own Spying Highlights Weak Privacy Laws

Joe Barton (R-TX) speaks at an Energy Subcommittee Hearing on March 20, 2007.(Liz Lynch)

September 26, 2012

Reports that several rent-to-own companies were caught spying on customers with rented computers highlight the need for stronger privacy laws, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said on Wednesday.

"I was dumbfounded when I heard about this case," Barton, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "How can any company believe that it is OK to secretly gather data such as medical records, keystrokes, and even taking webcam pictures of unknowing customers inside their homes?"

The Federal Trade Commission announced on Tuesday that it has settled the charges with seven rent-to-own companies, as well as a software designer. Federal investigators accused the companies of using off-the-self software designed to track rented computers to gather private information about customers, including using webcams to take pictures in their homes.

"This is preposterous and must come to an end," said Barton, co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. He argued that the case illustrates the need for tougher privacy laws in the United States. "Everyone should have a say in how their personal information is used."

The settlement bars the companies from continuing to engage in such behavior but "the complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has actually violated the law," according to the FTC.

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