Should companies like Comcast be able to sell your internet browsing history without your permission? Most Americans would say “no”, yet the Congress voted to allow just that.
Americans have enjoyed a legal right to privacy from your communications provider under Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act for more than twenty years. When Congress made that law, it had a straightforward vision in how it wanted the dominane communications network (at that time the telephone company) to treat your data, recognizing that you are forced to share personal information in order to utilize the service and did not have workable alternatives.
A Republican bill that significantly rolls back rules designed to prevent internet providers from selling consumer data has passed both houses of Congress and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law. Both Senator Warner and Kaine voted against, Representative Griffith voted in favor.
The Bill will overturn rules developed by the Federal Communications Commission last year, which required most internet service providers (ISPs) to get your consent before using and selling your web browsing history and other sensitive data. The resolution also prohibits the FCC from issuing rules that are substantially the same in the future.
The FCC rules are necessary to ensure that large companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon don’t put their profits above our right to choose how our online information is used and shared.
The bill represents a shift in how the federal government treats individuals’ online data. Historically, regulations have treated that data as the property of the consumer. When this bill is signed into law, it will be viewed more like the property of internet providers. That means broadband companies could sell a customer’s browsing history, location data, and other online activities.
This Bill strikes fear in the hearts of many of us. There are a lot of communities like Pulaski whose residents who do not have access to multiple internet service providers, and will be forced to use as their only source of connection a provider who sells their information to the highest bidder.
HERE ARE THREE CHANGES YOU COULD SEE IN YOUR INTERNET PRIVACY IF THIS BILL IS SIGNED INTO LAW:
1. Companies would be able to sell your sensitive data to advertisers, data brokers, and even the government.
Without the FCC rules, ISPs won’t have to ask your permission before passing along deeply revealing data — your browsing history, IP address (which can indicate your location), app usage, and the times you log in and out of services — to third parties. These third parties could be advertising firms and big data brokers, both of which have a troubling history of discrimination. With the data they get from ISPs, these third parties could get insight into your religion, sexual orientation, or even how often you binge-watch Netflix. Even more disturbing, the government could also purchase this data for law enforcement or other uses.
2. A huge gap would be created in consumer protection online — opening the door to abuse.
The FCC is the only agency that can proactively protect your online privacy. Other government bodies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, cannot issue proactive rules that require companies to obtain consent before sharing customer information. Moreover, as a result of recent court cases, the FTC lacks jurisdiction over some internet service providers, such as AT&T. As a result, if Congress eliminates the FCC rules, no existing regulations would require companies to provide opt-in consent to consumers before sharing their information, creating an enormous privacy gap.
3. The FCC might not be able to remedy future privacy abuses.
Utilizing the fast-track procedure under the Congressional Review Act, the FCC rules would be eliminated and the agency would be prohibited from issuing rules that are “substantially the same” or similar in the future. Prior to this Congress, this procedure under the Congressional Review Act had only been used once before. Thus, it is unclear how the term “substantially the same” will be interpreted. However, it is a fair bet that companies will use this language to argue against the ability of the FCC to issue rules in the future. Moreover, the FCC may interpret this language in a way that forecloses it from addressing future privacy abuses or changing business practices.
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
This is about corporations making money. And the adage “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got no reason to hide” is naive at best. Example. You do some web research into cancer for a dying family member, that is now in your history that is sold to a broker then your health care premiums go up or you are denied care due to pre-existing condition. This is not futuristic Orwellian fear; this is big data and big business now.
This about our internet service providers being able to sell our browser histories to the private sector. It isn’t even a problem of us citizens doing anything criminal. I’m sure a lot of us “Google” things that are embarrassing and that we wouldn’t want others to know about for Privacy reasons, not because we’re doing anything illegal. Privacy is an American value, and it’s one of my values. We should give it up very grudgingly for the sake of safety, and not give it up at all for the sake of corporate profit.
As we’ve been told by our elected “leaders” if you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about. Regardless, if the government wants to surveil US citizens then let them get a court order; otherwise, their gathering your personal data falls under 4th Amendment protection. Approval for your ISP and others to profit off your information should be with the customer’s full approval and not buried in the ISP’s EULA (End User License Agreement) , that fine print we seldom read.
What happens when the company buying your data is one you work for or want to work for? What happens if you file taxes online? Imagine how a student researching a paper on Islam or radical religious groups will feel now knowing their online activities are readily available.
What happens to women and pregnancy data? Or medical info kept in the cloud. Or it is incorporated into a FICO…or background check…preexisting conditions for insurance? How exactly can all this data be used? Or checked for accuracy? None of that has been specified.
It is a slippery slope. One minute, your shopping history is sold. The next minute, your race, ethnicity, political affiliation, immigration status, religious or sexual orientation,police record, or even age, is sold.
The 4th Amendment to the US constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This Bill is a huge backward step. It not only tramples on one of most sacred freedoms, it abolishes it.
So long as you are confident handing over all of your internet history to your next employer, all law enforcement, and anyone else who can pay for it or demand it then I guess you’re in the clear. Nevertheless, after some software goes through the data and sees that someone on your Wi-Fi (or who borrowed your smartphone) once downloaded specifications on how to make a bomb,or craft a gun with a 3D printer, or visited a child porn site, you’ll be looking silly saying it wasn’t you. You will regret saying the Bill really doesn’t concern you.
The rules haven’t taken effect yet, so we don’t know exactly what these changes will mean when implemented. Moreover, Congress could always change the rules that prevent the FTC from regulating common carriers, solving the enforcement gap. If all of this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: If Trump signs the Bill to gut the FCC’s privacy rules; your internet provider will remain free to sell your data to the highest bidder.
Let us know what you think!
Stay tuned. I (and who knows who else) will see you on the internet!
Update: Late Friday,March 31,2017, the Big Three (Comcast, Verizon and ATT) issued a joint statement saying they will not sell your data…..FOR NOW $$
Update : President signed Bill into law 3 April 2017