As an Arizona resident we have quite a lot in our state to be proud about, but here is a blow dealt to the Internet at large in the United States that came out of our state. Our own Senator Jeff Flake is making strides to erode away the internet privacy protections we as citizens so enjoy. This is a nonpartisan review from a purely tech standpoint, with the intention to merely inform (and perhaps lay some responsibility where it is due).
Senator Jeff Flake (who serves our state alongside John McCain) set forth the bill early 2017 that would roll back privacy regulations on internet service providers already set by the FCC. Of the previous privacy protection bill in 2016 the FCC chairman said this:
“It is the consumer’s information. How it is used should be the consumer’s choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”
Jeff Flake’s new bill has squashed the privacy protections enacted by the FCC so that now internet service providers like Quest, Cox, and Comcast do not need to ask or notify their customers before selling their browsing information.
If you’re a big fan of Net Neutrality like I am, then you are very displeased with this development.
ISP Privacy Loss: Why Did This Happen?
The argument against protecting your and my privacy boils down to “well, Facebook makes money off of you so why limit the playing field?” Senator Jeff Flake started the ball rolling but plenty of others joined in to pass this law.
The Republican Party was championing this privacy deregulation, and many donations were made from Telecom industries. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake received $27,955 in donations and John McCain received $84,125. Both voted in favor. You can see that it was nearly an along-party-lines vote.
These lawmakers argue that Telecom companies should have not be required to notify their customers before selling browsing and personal data of their users.
What Does My ISP Know About Me?
Assuming you aren’t using a VPN (virtual private network) to obscure your web traffic, at the very best they will know what websites you visit. That might not sound like the whole kit and caboodle, but you’d be surprised at how accurate a picture can be painted of you and the intimate details that can be revealed just by URLs alone.
This isn’t even about uncovering unsavory details, because I know that you, friendly reader, have none. You are probably a good person living a decent life so what do you have to be afraid of? It’s not like we could discern your medical history from this data alone, or could we?
I don’t need to violate HIPAA laws to figure out what ails you if you are visiting websites like “bursitis-sufferers.com” or “chronic-back-pain.net” and I can peek at your browsing history. Just by our everyday actions we’re giving away a lot, and that’s before the savvy tracking cookies. Tinfoil hat time.
Despite Senator Jeff Flake, What Can I Do About My Privacy?
Write your congress members. Set up a VPN and run your internet traffic through it, so that all your internet provider receives is encrypted “garbage”. Stop using the internet? Use the internet at different locations to minimize data collected at your home or office. Train carrier pigeons. Use HTTPS whenever possible to encrypt your traffic (HTTPS Everywhere is a nice extension for Chrome and Firefox). Cry silently into a pillow.
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