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House Votes to Strip Americans of Their Internet Privacy Rights

Posted on Mar 28, 2017

By Lauren McCauley / Common Dreams

  Rep. Keith Ellison argues against repeal of the FCC’s online privacy provisions on the House floor on Tuesday. (Screen shot via CSPAN)

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Updated:

Despite widespread popular outcry, House Republicans on Tuesday voted to strip citizens of their right to privacy online, selling out the American public to the deep-pocketed telecom industry.

With 215 voting for and 205 against, 15 GOP representatives joined the Democrats in opposing the S.J. Res. 34, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) privacy provision. Six Republicans and three Democrats abstained. Roll call here.

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Open internet and privacy advocates immediately condemned the resolution, now poised to become law pending a likely signature from President Donald Trump.

Laying out the implications of the vote, Nathan White, senior legislative manager at Access Now, declared, “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,” he continued. “[Internet Service Providers] (ISPs) 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, said that Republican lawmakers “once again that they care more about the wishes of the corporations that fund their campaigns than they do about the safety and security of their constituents.”

“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 added.

Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel, said that 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.”

“President Trump,” Guliani continued, “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 stand up for privacy rights, a White House press statement released earlier Tuesday indicated that his advisers will “recommend that he sign the bill into law.”

READ: Truthdigger of the Week: Ed Markey, Longtime Supporter of Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy

Taking to Twitter, Greer further pointed out that the privacy violations will disproportionately impact marginalized communities like LGBTQ people, explaining how the widespread collection of data could present a “backdoor opportunity to target people based on their beliefs or sexuality.”

Further, as Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Program at the New America think tank, outlined in a lengthy Twitter thread earlier Tuesday, the resolution is more than an invasion of privacy but also “about market power and the ability to manipulate you with algorithms.”

“Do you want your insurance company to adjust your rates based on your web browsing activity?” Stoller asked. “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 added, “That’s what this is about.”

The danger of “predatory marketing” schemes was also highlighted by Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson, who wrote: “Ending these important privacy protections gives greedy corporations unfettered access to our personal data and the power to further exploit vulnerable communities. The data that big corporations collect from Black broadband users leads to predatory marketing, which starts at a young age and lasts throughout our lives. Without the crucial FCC regulations implemented last year, Black and marginalized communities will continue to experience online price gouging, data discrimination, and digital redlining.”

Earlier:

Privacy advocates were frantically urging voters to contact their Republican representatives as the U.S. House on Tuesday prepared to vote on legislation that would strip citizens of their right to online privacy.

The vote was on S.J. Res. 34, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) privacy provision, which required that providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon get users’ permission before collecting or selling sensitive data.

READ: Senate Passes Resolution to Roll Back Privacy Rules

Should House Republicans follow those in the Senate who voted 50-48 to back the resolution, it is widely expected that President Donald Trump will sign it into law.

What this means practically for users of the internet is that one’s search history—information about health, finances, and other private matters—as well as their location and the applications they use, could soon be tracked by internet service providers (ISPs) and then sold to a third-party without an individual’s permission.

As lawmakers took to the floor to debate the resolution, internet users and consumer watchdogs flooded their offices with phone calls, pleading with their elected officials to protect the Obama-era provision. Updates are being shared on social media with the hashtag #broadbandprivacy while the debate is available to watch on C-SPAN.

 

Vice News’ Noah Kulwin explains the thinking behind the gross overreach: “Facebook and Google, which together have a de facto duopoly on digital advertising dollars, already collect this sort of information and use it to help advertisers better target users. Internet providers want a slice of that pie.”

And notably, the telecom industry has spent millions lobbying members of Congress to strip such FCC regulations. During the 2014 election cycle, for example, the industry spent a total of $99.3 million, with Comcast alone spending around $16.9 million.

What’s more, coming in the form of a CRA, the legislation prevents the FCC from putting any similar rules in place in the future. As Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained to NPR ahead of the vote, the bill “really is changing the status quo. It is essentially dismantling years of privacy protection that people have had in this country.”

READ: Electronic Frontier Foundation Pleads for Action to Save Online Privacy Rules

Responding to pressure, numerous Democratic lawmakers also used Twitter ahead of the vote to defend the rule and declare their opposition to undoing it:

 


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