Telecommunications companies are lobbying Congress for the legal right to use your personal data for any reason they like. That’s according to online rights lobby the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Not only that, the EFF says, but the cable and telephone industry actually wants to make it illegal for Congress to make laws protecting personal data privacy.
Existing regulations prevent telephone companies from using their subscribers’ personal information, without permission, for any purpose other than providing communication services.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently applied these laws to broadband internet providers as well. Given the far greater amount of personal information our online activities can reveal, this would seem a welcome protection.
Such information would include everything from your physical location to the content of your communications and internet browsing history. If you hold, trade or transact with digital currencies like bitcoin, your ISP could share that information too.
Using the Congressional Review Act to Repeal Regulations
However, two Congress members are currently moving to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) against the FCC and any other federal agency. This would overrule the FCC’s restrictions, and also prevent it from applying similar rules in the future.
The reasoning behind the CRA is that Congress itself should make the laws, not unelected government agencies. And there are plenty of people in the technology industry who’d rather the FCC didn’t intervene. (The ongoing debate over net neutrality is another aspect of this).
The EFF’s fear is this: presidents in the past have objected to Congress overruling their administration’s rules, and tended to veto requests based on the Congressional Review Act. With a new president from the same party as that with House and Senate majorities though, a CRA regulation repeal becomes more likely.
The EFF is currently campaigning to raise awareness of this process, and fight against it. On its website, it states the FCC is the only remaining agency able to protect the public’s privacy online.
Online Privacy: Does it Even Exist Anyway?
Many will be ready to throw up their hands in despair at yet more moves to record our every digital interaction. Edward Snowden warned us of the NSA’s capabilities to pry into our private communications in 2013. That was reiterated this week when Wikileaks revealed the CIA possesses similar capabilities.
With that knowledge, people will wonder — what do laws even matter?
Not only does government have the power to snoop on us, it’s also careless with its tools. The CIA’s hacking toolkit is in the wild and available for any individual or criminal group to use. And remember any regulation applies only to US citizens. If you’re from anywhere else, your online communications are fair game no matter what Congress rules.
Perhaps more troubling is a lack of concern. Are people so used to being spied on now that they’re weary, or don’t care? Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt raised eyebrows in 2009 when he declared you shouldn’t be doing anything online that you don’t want the world to know about.
Legal Personal Activities Still Need to Be Private
The argument remains that there are still plenty of perfectly-legal activities we don’t want to reveal to the wider world. Financial privacy, including how much we earn and how we spent it, is a major one.
Private houses have rooms for private activities we don’t even want our loved ones to see. If physical spaces remain sacrosanct from a privacy point of view, groups like the EFF maintain our digital ones should too.
As more and more of our daily affairs are conducted online, consumer-ready tools that create private digital spaces (like encryption) will be valuable. Keeping them private, however, is an ongoing battle.
Do you think the EFF’s concern is legitimate in this case? Is it still possible to remain private online at all? Let us know.
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