It’s an unusual day when Congress can bring together the disparate factions in the United States.
But our lawmakers in Washington have done just that.
And it has largely slipped past public view because of cable news’ fixation on all things Trump.
This is unfortunate, because the actions that occurred in the past three weeks in Washington amount to an unwarranted assault on the privacy of everyday Americans.
The U.S. Senate and House votes, coupled with President Trump’s signature last week, erased a Federal Communications Commission regulation that had required internet service providers to get your permission before they provided your browsing data to other companies.
At a time when cable news and politicians have focused the nation’s attention on the president’s complaints the government had his staff under electronic surveillance, there has been little attention to Senate Joint Resolution 34 that permits internet service providers — companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Mediacom — to collect and sell very personal data about you and me.
Advertisers and data brokers will pay handsomely to get their hands on the internet providers’ customer information and their customers’ internet usage. It includes information like the internet address for every computer you use, the apps you use, the times you are online, and the websites you visit.
When advertisers and data brokers know whether you are shopping online for a new car, new shoes or a new sadomasochism “toy,” if you are exploring various fetishes and proclivities, or if you are studying a horrible disease, they can resell the information to other companies that want to target you.
Most Americans think their internet browsing history should be kept out of the hands of big corporations. It has nothing to do with whether you have something to hide.
It’s important to remember that all of this involves protecting you from corporations that are trying to make money off your internet history. This isn’t about making it difficult for law enforcement to catch criminals, because they already have the legal tools to monitor your computer use with a judge’s permission.
The obvious ways this decision sets up potential abuses of our privacy leaves me wondering who Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Rod Blum, David Young and Steve King are listening to. It certainly isn’t the average people of Iowa, the people who live in places like Davis County, who are clamoring for Congress to let internet service providers sell their personal data.
Why then are the men and women in the House and Senate paying more attention to big corporations than to the ordinary Joes and Janes they represent? I have a hunch you might find the answer in that Washington swamp President Trump has talked about draining.
Supporters of S.J.R. 34 believe the old FCC rules were onerous and unfair for internet service providers because companies like Google and Facebook, who operate websites and not internet service networks, did not fall under FCC jurisdiction.
But instead of leveling the playing field with legislation that would subject Google and Facebook to the same type of privacy restrictions as internet providers, Congress decided to rip out the goal posts and tear up the sideline markers from the playing field.
Tom Wheeler, a former chairman of the FCC, said in a recent guest column in the New York Times, “I understand that [internet] network executives want to produce the highest return for shareholders by selling consumers’ information. The problem is they are selling something that doesn’t belong to them.”
Members of Congress long ago wrote themselves out of the requirements of the federal government’s Freedom of Information Act. Congress decided to shield itself from what it thought was intrusive snooping into the work of members of Congress.
So it’s the height of irony that representatives and senators last month were unable to see the wisdom of the FCC’s internet regulations that protect the privacy of the American people. Put me down as having nothing to hide but still disappointed.
by Randy Evans
Reprint from Bloomfield Democrat