North Texas Daily

The damages of repealing internet privacy rules

The damages of repealing internet privacy rules

The damages of repealing internet privacy rules
March 30
09:00 2017

The Editorial Board

In the latest instance of congressional mischief, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules on Tuesday. The Senate passed the bill last week, and since the other chamber of Congress has allowed it with a 215-205 vote, it all rests on President Donald Trump’s shoulders to sign the bill and regress the progress of online advocacy.

The FCC rules, which were approved this past October, heavily restricted the way that internet service providers could handle users’ online information. According to The Washington Post, this information includes browsing histories, mobile data, finances, app usage, Social Security information and the content of our emails.

Thanks to the FCC, companies had to concede with their consumers in order to sell their data to advertisers until this point. In fact, the restrictions were originally conceived out of consumers’ needs for new privacy protections as “more Americans [are turning] to the internet to find jobs” each day. If Trump signs the bill as he’s expected to, ISPs will be free to monitor consumer behavior and use our personal data to sell ads in an online market worth $83 billion, according to eMarketer.

“Privacy is an issue that the American people treasure,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in response to the GOP’s colossal decision. “We cannot allow the Republicans to sell the dignity of the American people.”

However, the majority of House Republicans argue that the FCC rules are merely “arbitrary government [interventions] in the free market,” with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) believing that consumer privacy will improve “by removing the uncertainty and confusion [that FCC] rules create.” Her claim was supported by an opening statement from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who blamed the confusion on the FCC “subjecting part of the internet ecosystem to different rules and jurisdictions” than consumers are used to. After this, only 15 Republicans voted against the grain of 215.

Now there’s a lot wrong with this defense. Although Burgess invoked the free market in this battle over our privacy, the rules set in place by the FCC were clearly intended to separate our information from the dog-eat-dog nature of free market economics. Doing so only keeps ISPs, tech companies and ad men from getting their corporate hands on the communications we hold most dear.

Furthermore, we can only expect the worst possibility of President Trump’s decision-making. Not because we harbor ill will towards him, but because of the obvious business advantages that come from passing the bill. When the FCC’s policies were originally passed, telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast were some of the first to call the policies “illogical” and “disappointing.”

Those companies are every bit as represented in D.C. as we are, due to the Internet & Television Association – which controls over 90 percent of the U.S. cable industry and functions as its top lobbying group. Their current president is Michael Powell, a Republican who formerly led the FCC before taking the NCTA gig in 2011. Taking this into account, it only makes sense that the GOP would go to such extreme lengths to subjugate our rights to internet privacy.

According to the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts, a July 2015 survey revealed that 19 percent of internet households suffered from security breaches, identity theft or other malicious activity in the 12 months beforehand.

More recent was the 2017 Identity Fraud Study, which found that $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million Americans last year. Due to the advent of microchips on credit cards, making them “difficult to counterfeit,” it is much easier for cyber-thieves to masquerade through existing personal information. Also, the Pew Research Center found that only 13 percent of U.S. households didn’t use the internet in 2016. This only puts the privacy of the remaining 87 percent at risk.

To combat the actions of Congress if the rules are repealed, be sure to only browse HTTPS sites. HTTP stands for hypertext transfer protocol, which allows the transfer of web data between servers and browsers. The “s” in HTTPS stands for “secure,” creating an encrypted protection between the web server and browser. Any visit to the unencrypted HTTP sites makes it easier for third parties to see your information, so clearing out your web history will not be enough.

Once more, a vital component of our everyday living is at the mercy of misguided politicians. Even though a Republican contingency to the FCC rules remains to be seen, the best action for Americans to take is to secure their personal info at all costs. The system that promised to protect us in October has failed us yet again.

Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins

About Author

Preston Mitchell

Preston Mitchell

Preston served as the Opinion Editor of the North Texas Daily from July 2016 to July 2017, and is a UNT graduate of integrative studies.

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