Republicans in Congress Will Not Protect Your Internet Privacy, So Protect it Yourself
Unlike the ACA, however, Republicans are completely united on loosening regulations for telecom monopolies.
Image: Free Press
Tuesday, the House of Representatives will vote to allow your internet service provider to spy on you. Right now, there are a series of last-minute letter writing campaigns and protests trying to salvage rules that would protect your privacy, but make no mistake: These efforts will almost certainly fail. It's time to protect yourself.
I hate to be fatalist, but the Federal Communication Commission rules that the Senate voted to repeal last week and the House will vote on tomorrow are not controversial within the Republican party, which has the power to impose its will. This fight is not similar to the Affordable Care Act battle, which was marked by rampant infighting and the disastrous optics of passing legislation that would have literally killed many of Republicans lawmakers' core voters.
The bill would repeal rules passed by the FCC last year that would have made it illegal for ISPs to sell your browsing history to advertisers, hijack your Google searches in order to redirect them to advertisers' websites, and inject ads into websites you visit. The repeal of these rules will also allow wireless carriers to preinstall undeletable software trackers onto your phone and ISPs to use "super cookies" to track you around the web. Not great.
Relaxing telecom regulations has been a core policy of the Republican party for years
Unlike the ACA, however, Republicans are completely united on loosening regulations for telecom monopolies. Not one single Republican Senator voted against the bill last week, and even so-called privacy champion Rand Paul abstained from voting at all. Relaxing telecom regulations has been a core policy of the Republican party for years, whether it means destroying net neutrality, undermining efforts to create competition, and generally crippling the FCC's authority to impose rules.
Last month, FCC chairman Ajit Pai voted to keep the rules from going into effect, and Donald Trump doesn't seem to think much of the FCC at all—its five-person commission currently has only three members (two Republicans and one Democrat), and there has been no signal from the White House that it plans on nominating replacements anytime soon. Put simply: This bill has almost universal support among Republicans at all levels of the federal government.
So while opposition efforts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Color of Change, and others are nice from an outreach and awareness standpoint, they have little chance of succeeding. It's time to take matters into your own hands.
Most immediately, you should get a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, which adds a layer between your computer and the open internet, which hides your browsing habits from your ISP. Ideally, you should pay a small monthly fee for a subscription, because free VPNs have a general track record of being sketchy and not great with user privacy themselves.
Read More: The Motherboard Guide to VPNs
If you are one of the lucky ones living in a city with broadband competition, consider switching to a smaller ISP that tries to compete on things such as net neutrality and consumer privacy. Not all small ISPs will commit to not selling your browser data, but the new class of socially conscious startups and taxpayer-owned networks might.
You should also A) shout from the rooftops that this is happening; B) talk about it at bars, picnics, PTA meetings, and bus stops with your friends, family, and random strangers; and C) vote for local, state, and federal politicians who represent the interests of their constituents, not massively powerful corporate donors.
The utter failure of the federal government to protect users' internet privacy has happened in part because there is not a significant electorate that has made privacy their core issue; there are no political consequences whatsoever for letting corporations sell your private information. A federal political fix will not happen without making clear that politicians will be held accountable for betraying your privacy.
It's heartening, then, that there is a small but growing movement to pass privacy legislation on a state level.
So, to summarize: Get involved at a state and local level, support politicians who support privacy, tell everyone you know about what Congress is supporting, and, most of all, do what you can to protect yourself.