Inside the U.S. Congressional Campaign to Halt Internet Privacy Rules

Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post:

“While everyone was focused on the latest headline crisis coming out of the White House, Congress was able to roll back privacy,” said former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who worked for nearly two years to pass the rules.

The process to eliminate them took only a matter of weeks. The blowback was immediate.

Constituents heckled several of the lawmakers at town halls. “You sold my privacy up the river!” one person yelled at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — lead sponsor of the Senate bill — at a gathering in April. Several late-night comedians roasted congressional Republicans: “This is what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this,” Stephen Colbert said.

I still can’t find anyone who thinks that undoing these rules was a good idea. Even the Republicans’ rationale, summarized in Kindy’s article, are so flimsy that they fall apart with even the most cursory questioning:

The industry, Republican FCC commissioners and lawmakers said the restrictions were too broad and should be limited to highly sensitive data, such as personal medical information, not data gathered from activities like online car shopping. The rules, they said, would cause consumers to miss out on customized promotions. And, opponents said, the threat to privacy was overstated — a provider might learn that a person visited a website but would not typically know what the person did while there.

Do Americans want to see more targeted advertising? No. Do Americans want their internet service provider to retain a full record of all of the websites they visit? Hell no. No shit.

Another revelation in Kindy’s article:

By January, trade groups for tech companies such as Facebook and Google had joined the fight to undo the privacy rules, according to records and interviews. Those companies are regulated by a different government body, the Federal Trade Commission, but they worried that Congress might someday find a way to expand the reach of the rules so that they apply to all technology companies.

One can only hope that explicit opt-in rules do become the norm, and are similarly applied to ISPs and technology companies.