Donald Trump whines about being wiretapped and spends most of his waking hours fretting about his reputation. But he has no problem selling out your Internet browsing habits, and doesn’t really care if you suffer identity theft.
Earlier this month, Trump signed a law gutting long-planned privacy protections Barack Obama put in place just four months ago. The 73-page FCC regulation it nullified included a framework for sharing customer information, modernizing old privacy rules for new technology such as smartphones.
It also gave guidance on how to handle increasingly common data breaches — including requirements for notifying authorities and telling consumers they might be victims of identity theft. (Remember how Yahoo didn’t announce a 2014 breach that affected one billion accounts until December 2016?)
The resolution Trump signed that effectively said “nah, forget that stuff” clocked in at under 100 words and offered zero justification.
Nobody wanted this
Here’s what the regulations Trump just killed were supposed to do:
In this Order, we apply the privacy requirements of the Communications Act of 1934 to the most significant communications technology of today—broadband Internet access service (BIAS). Privacy rights are fundamental because they protect important personal interests—freedom from identity theft, financial loss, or other economic harms, as well as concerns that intimate, personal details could become the grist for the mills of public embarrassment or harassment or the basis for opaque, but harmful judgments, including discrimination. By reclassifying BIAS as telecommunications service, we have an obligation to make certain that BIAS providers are protecting their customers’ privacy while encouraging the technological and business innovation that help drive the many benefits of our increasingly Internet-based economy.
In other words, the regulation acknowledges internet service is a form of communication technology and should be regulated by existing laws that cover traditional phone communications.
While the vote on the law split along party lines, it’s not a partisan issue among voters. Surprisingly, Americans aren’t happy about the idea someone could follow them around every day and sell their whereabouts and actions to the highest bidder.
A whopping 72 percent of Republicans disapproved of the decision and wanted Trump to veto the law, and even the top Breitbart commenter on a story about the law admitted: “This is one of very few Obama-era regulations that should have stayed.” (For what it’s worth, Breitbart’s story called the repealed regulation “duplicitous.”)
Now there’s a fundraiser to buy up Congress’ internet data and see how they like it. So far, over 4,000 people have kicked in $87,000. Here’s another fundraiser that lets you vote on whose data to buy first. Fusion had the same idea sans the fundraising part, and quickly released “the first installment of our 265-part series”: a look into the Internet history of Rep. Duncan Hunter, who supported the repeal. Fusion was able to dig up information on his vaping habits and posts on a bodybuilding forum about his favorite weight-loss supplements.
What could happen — though ISPs say it won’t
The rules were meant to keep Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from selling your personal information: What websites you visit and how often, what you click on, your shopping habits, and thanks to the Internet-connected smartphones we all carry around, where you were at a given time. (Don’t think it’s being tracked? See what just Google Location History has on you.)
Forget about the porn for a second. We’re talking about the health issues you Google, how you consider spending your money, who you talk to and what you like. And all the same for your kids. That information — which until now has been treated as belonging to you — can now be sold by the Internet companies to the highest bidder and then weaponized to follow you around the Internet and sell you more stuff. And don’t expect your Internet and phone company to lower your bill just because you’re doing them this favor, either.
Worst part? The way Republicans and Trump repealed the rules means the FCC can’t propose similar protections again. They’ll have to come from Congress directly. Meanwhile, that plan to address cybersecurity Trump promised would come in his first 90 days hasn’t been mentioned again.
If you don’t like the new way of things, one Congressman who voted for the repeal offered a helpful solution. “Nobody’s got to use the Internet,” 73-year-old Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, told a town hall attendee. “I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold.”
New identity theft worries, too
All the headlines about this repeal focused on your browsing habits, which is admittedly the sexier topic. That affects the bottom line of advertisers and telecom companies, but it’s not like they would be selling your passwords or anything.
But the other thing the law ruined could affect your bottom line: FCC instructions on how to handle data breaches and notify consumers if they happen, and how to protect your Social Security numbers and other personal financial details from thieves in the first place.
Ars Technica, a news site that focuses as much on tech policy as gadgetry, points out these rules weren’t onerous or prescriptive. The FCC basically said: Take reasonable steps to guard user information. The regulation specifically says “We decline to mandate specific activities that carriers must undertake in order to meet the reasonable data security requirement,” and only offers recommendations.
Internet company lobbyists then whined to the FCC that this would “fragment privacy protections” and “confuse consumers,” because the Federal Trade Commission also regulates some Internet companies.
Because, yeah, the first thing on our minds when we get hacked is the acronym for the federal bureaucracy we should blame. That’s what I worry about.
Guess we’re just supposed to be fine with the corporate honor system — they have our best interests at heart, right?
And on a totally unrelated note… If you’re looking into virtual private networking to shield your Internet habits from your provider, I recommend reading Brian Krebs’ excellent post — he’s a highly respected expert on internet security and explains what VPNs are, what to look for in one, the limitations of using them, and a good source for comparing different services.
Article last modified on April 20, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .