By Miriam Raftery
May 30, 2017 (San Diego) – Your Internet provider can now legally sell your browsing history and your email address, without your consent—thanks to legislation signed into law by President Trump. The measure passed the Senate by just 2 votes and the House by 10 votes. San Diego Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa both voted for the measure – after taking $19,000 and $66,275 from the telecommunications industry respectively.
By contrast, San Diego Democratic Congressional members Susan Davis and Juan Vargas took no money from the telecommunications industry, and both voted against the measure, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. California’s two Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, also voted no.
The new law blocks landmark privacy regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Obama administration that were set to go into effect and would have blocked companies such as Google, Comcast, or AT&T from saving and selling customers’ browsing histories.
Ajit Pai, newly named FCC chair under Trump called the legislation “appropriate” and blamed his Democratic predecessor for executive overreach. He also said that responsibility for regulating Internet providers should fall to the Federl Trade Commission(FTC), not the FCC. However the FTC does not consider browser history to be sensitive or protected data, the Washington Post has reported.
The action has sparked alarm among privacy rights advocates. Imagine having not only your shopping habits, but potentially sensitive information such as your medical history or embarrassing details such as your preferred underwear styles available to anyone willing to pay for it. Thieves might learn when you’re on vacation by perusing your browsing history on flights and other travel details. Investigative journalists, police officers or private investigators could potentially find their work, safety or even their lives put at risk.
Angry voters in the district of Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), the bill’s author, responded with heckling at town halls and erected a billboard which reads, “Flake betrayed you. He took $186,000 from telecoms, then he voted to let them sell your web history without permission.” It then encourages constituents to call and ask him why, the Washington Post reports.
The measure has been broadly condemned by consumer groups and privacy rights advocates, but was supported by telecom companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; business interests see opportunities in buying consumers’ browsing history in order to market products or services.
The Chamber argued that the measure was needed becasue the Obama rules "could inhibit the growth of the advertising-driven internet ecosystem."
Articles on major media sites about the vote drew near-universal opposition in comments sections among Trump voters as well as liberals. As late-night comedian Stephen Colbert observed, “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.”