NEWS

Bill to sell information on users' internet activity passes Congress

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U.S. Senator Jeff Flake speaking at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry's 2016 Capitol Hill Update at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Flake intoduced a bill that, if passed, will allow ISPs to collect information from users' internet activity without permission.

The House and Senate have voted in favor of a bill which, if signed by President Trump, will allow internet service providers to sell users’ personal information without their permission.

Introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Senate Joint Resolution 34 would overturn an Obama-era law that required ISPs to obtain permission before selling information to advertisers and other companies.

The Senate and House votes came to a count of 50-48 and 215-205, respectively. The Senate voted along party lines with two Republican abstentions, while the House saw some opposition from the majority party: 15 Republicans joined 190 Democrats in voting against the legislation.

Although Trump does have the power to veto this bill, he is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Flake wrote that the new law would be put into place to repeal existing regulations on the Federal Communications Commission that are a threat to consumer choice.

Flake understands the FCC’s regulations enacted in 2015 as a power grab over jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission; his argument is rooted in firms’ abilities to provide deals to consumers.

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“We need to reject these harmful midnight privacy regulations that serve only to empower bureaucrats and hurt consumers,” Flake wrote. 

S.J. 34 overturns rules set in place for the FCC last year that banned the sale of personal information. Without these regulations on the newly-republican FCC in place, ISPs are able to sell records of users’ online behavior, including your location, web history, purchasing habits and more to advertisers and other companies.

Following the discovery that the CIA developed tools to spy on Mac computers, the Senate vote was met with reactions from privacy advocates who say that the rights of internet users are in danger. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in San Francisco, called the vote a “crushing blow” to online privacy.

“ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online,” wrote EFF Policy Analyst Kate Tummarello on the foundation’s blog. “They shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase and more without your consent.”

Since ISPs can see what pages users visit­­, using a browser’s “incognito” setting won’t hide URLs. However there are still measures that users can take to protect their online privacy.

With the passing of S.J. 34, internet users will have to use a Virtual Private Network or an anonymous browsing software like the Tor browser to anonymize themselves online. 

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A VPN routes a user’s internet traffic through a secure, usually distant server before connecting a person’s computer to a website. Some VPNs offer free trials, however most require a small subscription based on monthly or yearly use.

While anonymous browsing software like the Tor browser are often associated with illegal activity, using one and securing internet traffic information is not in itself illegal. The Tor Browser is free to download.

If Trump signs the legislation, the changes to online privacy could come into effect as early as December of this year.


Follow Henry Carson on Twitter.



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