March 30, 2017

The GOP’s Odd Move on Internet Privacy

Deregulation now allows ISPs to track and sell all your data.

While much attention was focused on the GOP’s health care failure, the Republican majority in Congress did something else that deserves scrutiny. ArsTechnica reports, “The US House of Representatives voted Tuesday to eliminate [Internet Service Provider] ISP privacy rules, following the Senate vote to take the same action last week.” What privacy rules? “The rules issued by the FCC last year would have required home Internet and mobile broadband providers to get consumers’ opt-in consent before selling or sharing Web browsing history, app usage history, and other private information with advertisers and other companies. But lawmakers used their authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to pass a joint resolution ensuring that the rules ‘shall have no force or effect’ and that the FCC cannot issue similar regulations in the future.”

Proponents argue that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is the proper regulatory vehicle. But there is no indication of any forthcoming protections from the FTC.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) pushed the bill, saying the FCC rulemaking was “just another example of big government overreach.”

But is that true? Various websites, including giants like Facebook and Google, can already see a lot about users depending on what people do on those websites. People can choose not to use those websites. Now, ISPs have free reign over all the data coming through a user’s browser. It’s much harder to avoid particular ISPs, especially when most people live in areas with only one or two providers. And ISPs can sell data to the highest bidder without users’ permission. That’s browsing history, mobile app usage, content posted in emails, financial and medical information, etc. Can a hospital sell your medical information? No, but ISPs now can. It’s also reasonable to assume this just made it easier for the government to use ISPs as data collection proxies. An ISP can’t say they don’t have data when they’re actively selling it.

We normally argue against regulation, and we don’t want to overstate this case, but the GOP’s move to deregulate here is baffling. Then again, it’s not the first time Republicans have been wrong about the Internet. Exit question: Besides Big Business, who benefits?


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