Republicans Just Moved to Let Big Companies Turn the Entire Internet into Spyware

Republicans Just Moved to Let Big Companies Turn the Entire Internet into Spyware

Republicans Want Your Internet Provider to be Able to Spy on You

Your internet service provider is probably not currently taking your personal data and selling it to the highest bidder so that advertising algorithms can stalk you in detail. And for that, you can thank rules passed by the Federal Communication Commission in October, which stipulated that Internet Service Providers had to ask customers for permission before selling their personal data.

The Verge reported that, under the new rules, ISPs would be

“…required to get explicit permission from subscribers before sharing “sensitive” information about them, such as their browsing history, their app usage, their location, and the content of emails and other communications.

“This is all particularly revealing data, and none of it has been governed by FCC privacy rules until now. That means internet providers have been able to share or sell it to their partners, who might have used the information to advertise their own products and services to those customers.

“Medical and financial information will also be restricted by these rules, as will social security numbers and information on children. Any information that isn’t covered by these categories can still be shared by internet providers unless consumers actively opt-out.”

When the new rules were passed, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said,

“It is the consumer’s information… How it is used should be the consumer’s choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”

The amount of information on any individual that is available to the internet companies is staggering, unless that information is regulated. Such regulation has not existed long, and now Republicans want to kill it.

On Tuesday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced a resolution to overturn the regulation, cosponsored by 34 Republicans. The resolution would also change the rules for the FCC to ensure that the regulator would not be able to issue a similar regulation again in the future.

The American Civil Liberties Union responded immediately when the resolution was sponsored, Tuesday.

ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani issued the following statement:

“With this move, Congress is essentially allowing companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to sell consumers’ private information to the highest bidder.

Members of Congress should not bow down to industry pressure. Consumers have a right to control how these companies use their sensitive data.”

There is an irony that Republicans are almost certainly ignoring. Republicans may open the door for sprawling telecom companies to make more money by having a more predatory approach toward American consumers on one hand. But on the other hand, they may close the door for American telecom companies to expand into new international markets. The European Union is rapidly modernizing its privacy protection laws to catch up to the pace of digital and online technology growth. The privacy of individual consumers is now protected by law across Europe. If the US can’t keep up, European governments will be legally bound to block any trade deals that involve companies that prey on consumers’ data. Europe is likely to become a model for other democratic countries in this regard, and America’s ability to compete is likely to fall behind starkly as privacy norms increasingly resemble that of a non-democratic country.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.