Congress Kills Internet Privacy and Provides Absurd Justifications
On Thursday, Senate and House voted to dismantle an Obama-era rule preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from selling personal information about their customers. The rule, which was to go into effect later this year, places ISPs under strict privacy protection guidelines as well as the jurisdiction of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
Internet providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and CenturyLink will now be allowed to collect their customers’ search histories, location data, and anything else they choose, and sell it to the highest bidder. Senator Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, has vowed to fight the legislation in the future. “The Republican-controlled Congress wants broadband companies to use and sell sensitive information about Americans’ health, finances, and even children without consent. In light of this Republican roll-back, I plan to introduce legislation that directs the FCC to reinstate strong broadband privacy rules,” Merkley said.
The information that ISPs collect is generally sold to advertising companies and other information aggregating companies without sufficient government oversight or customer notification. A Federal Trade Commission report makes it clear that privacy is primarily under corporate jurisdiction. Dismantling this rule sacrifices all Internet users’ privacy. Websites you visit, places you go to, and even your financial information can be collected and sold to an unknown entity without informed consent.
Congress evidently thinks that the American people should be spied on by giant corporations, rather than being able to use the Internet privately. According to his hometown newspaper, Senator Jeff Flake, a co-sponsor of the bill, says he is “trying to protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation.” However, the scrapped regulation that gave jurisdiction to the FCC was specifically designed to protect consumers from overreaching Internet companies. The rules allowed Internet users to opt in to data collection services. To claim that preventing comprehensive Internet privacy laws is actually protecting people from government overreach is patently absurd.
The conservative newspaper FreedomWorks objected to Obama’s FCC regulation by showcasing a major Republican talking point: “Since the FCC can only regulate a portion of the Internet sphere–service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T–other Internet companies, namely websites like Facebook and Google, would escape any stringent data privacy rules enacted by the FCC.”
This claim is as petulant as it is fallacious. It implies that because Google and Facebook can invade people’s privacy, any corporation can. This is a plea for fairness, by some of the largest companies in America, to sell sensitive personal information because some other companies can. I, for one, do not want anyone collecting and selling my information, let alone some giant, omnipresent ISP.
The concept that all citizens have essential liberties, and that privacy is one of those, is the foundation upon which our government rests. Corporations must have as little—or even less—of a right to violate these liberties as the government does. Corporations live for profit and are not concerned with protecting people’s rights. In discarding Internet privacy regulations, Republicans have sabotaged the right of every person in America to feel secure on the Internet.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun campaigning against some Republicans who voted for the measure. A full list of Congressmen and Congresswomen who voted for this measure can be found here (Senators) and here (House Representatives). It is important that everyone know exactly who took away our Internet privacy, so they can be held accountable in the next election. Until they’re out of office, these Republicans will continue to grant corporations greater freedoms than they grant to the people.