On Tuesday, the House narrowly voted to allow internet providers to sell your web browsing history and other personal information. The vote will give companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T more power to collect people’s sensitive data, including their internet browsing history, and to sell this information. Last week, the Senate also approved the measure in a vote largely split across party lines. President Trump is expected to sign the bill. For more, we speak to Laura Moy, deputy director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at the Georgetown University Law Center.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we end today’s show looking at the future of internet privacy, following Tuesday’s vote in the House to allow internet providers to sell your web browsing history and other personal information. By a vote of 215 to 205, the House passed a bill to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s landmark broadband privacy rules established under the Obama administration. The vote will give companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T more power to collect people’s sensitive data, including your internet browsing history, as well as to sell that information. Last week, the Senate also approved the measure in a vote largely split across party lines. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.
For more, we go to Washington to speak with Laura Moy, deputy director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center. Her new piece for The Daily Dot is titled “Think you can protect your privacy from internet providers without FCC rules? Good luck.”
Laura Moy, welcome to Democracy Now!
LAURA MOY: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of the House vote yesterday.
LAURA MOY: Right. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me on.
Right. I mean, strange days in Washington. At a time when Americans overwhelmingly want more privacy protection, yesterday the House of Representatives, as you said, voted 215 to 205 to eliminate these really important privacy rules that would protect the information that Americans have no choice but to share with their internet service providers from being sold or shared without their permission. So, you know, essentially, when you go online, you have to tell your internet provider what website you want to visit, what app you want to use, so that it knows where to route the traffic online, knows which information to send you and where to send the information that you’re communicating. Americans pay for that service. They don’t expect that information to be shared or used for other purposes or sold without their permission. But repealing the rules that were put in place last October will do just that, will allow internet providers, as you said, like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, to share or sell that information without permission.
AMY GOODMAN: So give us a concrete example of how this would work, something you looked up, and how that’s going to make its way to some company.
LAURA MOY: Right. So, let’s say that you are browsing the web, and you are visiting a gun auction site or a healthcare site, perhaps a site that expresses your political viewpoints. Because you’re visiting those sites, your internet provider gets to see that you are traveling to those sites on the web. If you’re going to WebMD.com to look up a health condition, your internet provider sees that information. And now, with repeal of the rules, it is possible that internet providers will see this as a green light to go ahead and sell that information about you to entities that might want to use it, for example, to track you or monitor you or just to market you related goods to the things that you’re interested in.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re looking up something on addiction, and then they start to target you as perhaps someone who is addicted, or you’re afraid to start looking things up and getting vital information, because of that very tactic.
LAURA MOY: Right. Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, Americans absolutely need internet connectivity in today’s modern era. You need to go online to search for a job. You need to go online to complete your education. You need to go online often to communicate with your healthcare provider or conduct your banking. And we want people to use the internet, to view it as a safe space to communicate with others, to express their political viewpoints, to carry out these vitally important everyday activities, and to do so without fear that the information that they share with their internet service provider will be used to harm them in some way.
AMY GOODMAN: Well—
LAURA MOY: And—sorry, go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Republicans argued that the FCC overstepped its mandate, and it’s the job of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate privacy. This is Republican Congressmember Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Having two privacy cops on the beat will create confusion within the internet ecosystem and will end up harming consumers. Third, the FCC already has authority to enforce privacy obligations of broadband service providers on a case-by-case basis. These broadband privacy rules are unnecessary and are just another example of big government overreach.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Republican Congressmember Marsha Blackburn, who, according to Vocativ, has received over half a million dollars in campaign donations [from] internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. If you could respond to what she’s saying—this should be the FTC’s area—and also the fact that the Republicans have pushed this when President Trump is fighting against surveillance himself—
LAURA MOY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —or of himself?
LAURA MOY: That’s right, yeah. So, as Representative Blackburn stated, the Federal Trade Commission has done a lot of work on privacy over the past couple decades. Unfortunately for us, the Federal Trade Commission does not have any authority to regulate internet service providers. So, a couple years ago, internet service was classified as a telecommunications service, because over 4 million Americans wanted it to be regulated as a common carrier service. And as a result, the Federal Trade Commission does not have the authority to protect the privacy of Americans from uses by internet providers. So, she is right that the Federal Trade Commission has done a lot of good work on privacy, but it is not true that the Federal Trade Commission can protect us here.
And then, you mentioned, of course, that President Trump has spoken out about surveillance or suspected surveillance of himself. This is a little bit ridiculous, because President Trump and the Trump White House has spoken out in support of the repeal of the privacy rule. Repeal of the privacy rule will, in addition to giving internet providers the green light to share and sell information without consumers’ consent, might help expand mass surveillance programs, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way? We have 10 seconds.
LAURA MOY: So, because of the way that internet providers are required to protect information and not share it without a lawful order with the government, if it’s classified as protected information under this rule, with repeal of the rule, that could lead to the expansion of some of these surveillance programs.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Laura Moy, thanks so much for joining us, from the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown.