March 30th, 2017
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Despite massive public outcry, Americans have been betrayed once again in favor of corporate profit — this time concerning Internet privacy rights. Powerful lobbying by the telecom industry prevailed in both the Senate and House, with 215 House members voting for and 205 voting against S.J. Res. 34, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) privacy provision. The House vote occurred only a few days after the GOP-majority Senate passed the proposal by a 50-48 vote the previous Thursday.
Dismantling years of safeguards, Internet Service Providers (ISP) will now be able to sell sensitive consumer data to the highest bidder — including personal information about your location, health, finances, family and even your sexual orientation. The bill repeals Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules that require Internet Service Providers to obtain customers’ permission, before using collected data from browsing history to create targeted advertising. What’s more, the regulation rollback will also allow your ISP to deploy undetectable tools that track your browsing history.
“Congress today voted to sell off your privacy and your security online. Your internet service provider can see almost everything you do online — from many of the websites you visit, to apps you use, and even some of your private communications,” said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at Access Now. “[Internet Service Providers]… want to sell off that treasure trove to increase corporate profits, and apparently Congress is fine with that.”
Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future adds that, because lawmakers are more concerned about funding their campaigns, rather than protecting the safety and security of their constituents, they have endangered us all.
“Gutting these privacy rules won’t just allow Internet Service Providers to spy on us and sell our personal information, it will also enable more unconstitutional mass government surveillance, and fundamentally undermine our cybersecurity by making our sensitive personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, and foreign governments,” she said.
Greer also points out these privacy violations will severely impact marginalized communities like LGBTQ, since widespread collection of data creates a “backdoor opportunity to target people based on their beliefs or sexuality.”
Moreover, Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Program of New America, stresses that the resolution is far more than an invasion of privacy. “This is about market power and the ability to manipulate you with algorithms, not just about keeping secrets,” he said in a recent Twitter post.
“Do you want your insurance company to adjust your rates based on your web browsing activity?” he asks. “Do you want prospective employers to use as a criteria who you are thinking of dating? Do you want your ISP or any buyers of data to know you are communicating with politicians or political advocates? Do you want airlines to raise ticket prices on you without you realizing it, based on their knowledge a family member just died?” He adds, “That’s what this is about.”
The passed joint resolution is written as follows:
This joint resolution nullifies the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission entitled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.”
The rule published on December 2, 2016: (1) applies the customer privacy requirements of the Communications Act of 1934 to broadband Internet access service and other telecommunications services, (2) requires telecommunications carriers to inform customers about rights to opt in or opt out of the use or the sharing of their confidential information, (3) adopts data security and breach notification requirements, (4) prohibits broadband service offerings that are contingent on surrendering privacy rights, and (5) requires disclosures and affirmative consent when a broadband provider offers customers financial incentives in exchange for the provider’s right to use a customer’s confidential information.
“It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major Internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans. Trump should use his power to protect everyone’s right to privacy.”
Despite the call for Trump to defend privacy rights, the White House issued a statement on Tuesday, March 28th in support of the bill, which is expected to become law with the signature of the president. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the FCC and former lawyer for Verizon, believes net neutrality is a “mistake” and fully supports the joint resolution.
In closing, Taylor Hatmaker at TechCrunch has this to say:
“Today’s vote is a blow to anyone who’d prefer not to put their browsing history on blast, and a major victory for advertisers hungry for all of the de-anonymized personal data that they can vacuum up and dole out. With Congress and the FCC squarely in the latter’s camp, consumers who value privacy — and really, we all should — are in for a rough ride.”
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