Quick: Name five people you’d love to show all the internet traffic that has ever gone through your router. Every page you and anyone else using your unsecured Wi-Fi ever visited, every ad ever served to you from any of those pages, how long you lingered on the pages you visited, whether you scrolled down or signed up or bought anything, and all of it time-stamped. Better yet, would you donate that information to a private mindshare broker, which brags about using a botnet AI to conduct psy ops and sway elections for the highest bidder?
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have introduced Congressional Review Act resolutions that would overturn the FCC’s privacy rules for ISPs. The resolutions will allow ISPs to sell the web histories of their customers to whatever “trusted partner” they wish. The resolutions hamstring FCC authority now and in the future; beyond just overturning the FCC’s current privacy rules, they would prevent the FCC from issuing any regulation that is “substantially the same” in the future. So not only does the current privacy protection against selling everyone’s ISP histories evaporate, but it can never be reinstated, nor presumably anything more stringent or consumer-focused. The advertising organizations behind this legislative codswallop aren’t exactly trying to hide. They’ve released a press release thanking their loyal, obedient politicians for pushing for this law.
Broadly interpreted, a straight repeal would mean that since ISPs are common carriers, any company that has even a side business as an ISP would be free from this privacy oversight. Google includes Google Fiber in its endless list of subsidiaries, which would mean that Google gets to sell your whole history. Cool.
In the wake of Citizens United decision that money equals speech, these theoretically civic-minded acts are another thinly veiled attempt to write corporate interests into law. You don’t have to dig deep to find Koch brothers and telecom sympathies in Rep. Blackburn’s “ideology.” Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and Charter — Charter! — all “spoke” freely to Blackburn last year. So did Koch Industries itself, not even bothering to obscure its political agency behind the name of the Club For Growth, like it did with Sen. Flake. Behind all this, the second wealthiest financial estate in the nation, and at its helm two rich dudes: Charles and David Koch.
Why do two rich dudes get to control so much? Flake, Blackburn, and others like them are being made tools of corporations, and you can watch the representatives turn around and speak the company line on the public dime. They’re putting forth corporate desires as ideological virtues by talking about what Time Warner wants, as if it’s the same thing as “states’ rights.” The interests of Verizon, Comcast, and Charter only coincide with those of the state of Tennessee because those are the only ISPs that do business there; Google Fiber is faltering, although last anyone heard it’s totally still gonna wire up Nashville, real soon now.
Chairman Ajit Pai is getting really precious about the FCC’s nominal openness initiative, even going so far as to have the FCC’s Twitter hashtag posts with #sunshineweek, because sunlight is the best disinfectant. And sunshine sounds happy. Pai has gone to great lengths to point out that the FCC’s next major meeting is open-access, as if it were a town hall meeting, to which mere mortal constituents are entitled access. But no — nice try, citizens. That March 23 meeting is a dial-in teleconference between members of an informal working group. It’s not a town hall meeting. Constituents will not be given a chance to speak. Nobody is going to answer press questions, let alone are the members of this working group going to disrupt their own work to talk to the audience at large. How many people dialing in can their phone system even handle, anyway?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying the long-term assault on American privacy is a strictly Republican endeavor. The Democrats were just as anxious to hop on board with PRISM and SOPA, and let’s not any of us forget the TPP. But Flake, Marshburn, Pai and their colleagues are banking that you won’t notice what they’re up to on behalf of their corporate sponsors, because you can’t complain if you don’t notice. Pai himself is acting like a corporate automaton, trying to do human-like things in hopes that we won’t notice he’s actually only programmed to say “DEREGULATE” in tones that evoke the Daleks.
What would politics look like if our representatives were required to put “sponsored content” on their bills and press releases? What is the monetary value of your web history, and why do advertisers need rights to get it free written into law? Shouldn’t you be able to opt in to having things sold to you? And is anyone so desperate to see more targeted ads that they’re willing to give ISPs the right to buy and sell this information, with no hope of oversight or control of how it’s used? If so, speak up in the comments. We’d like to hear from you.