Republicans just made clear how little they care about protecting the privacy of Americans by letting companies like Verizon and Comcast sell advertisers the internet browsing histories and other personal data of their customers without getting permission. The move could bolster the profits of the telecommunications industry by billions of dollars.
Following a party-line vote in the Senate last week, the House approved a resolution on Tuesday that would overturn a broadband privacy regulation the Federal Communications Commission adopted in October. That rule requires cable and phone companies to obtain consent before using information like which websites people visited to show them customized ads and to build detailed profiles on them. The White House said on Tuesday that President Trump would sign the legislation, which would also prohibit the F.C.C. from adopting a similar policy in the future.
Most Americans spend much of their lives online. They should be able to do so without fear that their internet service providers are logging their activities and selling the data. There is a long tradition of the government protecting such information. For example, the F.C.C. has long restricted what phone companies can do with call records. And in 1988 Congress prohibited video stores from disclosing the movies people rented.
Republican lawmakers, like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, and the chairman of the F.C.C., Ajit Pai, say that the commission’s privacy rule is unfair because it applies only to broadband companies and not to internet businesses like Google and Facebook. This is highly disingenuous. Congress has only given the commission authority over telecommunications companies, so the F.C.C. couldn’t have come up with rules that applied to other businesses even if it wanted to.
Telecom companies know a lot about what people do online because they are the gatekeepers through which people connect to the internet. And as people link household devices like thermostats, light bulbs and security cameras to the internet, these companies will have even more intimate knowledge about their customers. By comparison, people can more easily evade tracking by businesses like Google and Facebook by not using those services or by deleting the cookies those websites leave on their computers and phones.
In the absence of strong privacy rules, people will have to rely on encryption to prevent service providers from tracking them. But broadband companies would still know what websites people visit. And the companies would be able to see all of the communications between users and websites that do not use encryption. Sophisticated users might increasingly rely on virtual private networks, which are used by corporations to let their employees log into secure systems remotely, and other tools to mask their activities, but most Americans are unlikely to be conversant with such tricks of the trade.
Mr. Trump promised voters during the campaign that he would protect the working class. But now he and his party are moving quickly to do the bidding of a very different interest group: Big Telecom.
This editorial was published on the NY Times' website on March 29, 2017.
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School