On Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives finally managed to pass a piece of legislation. No, it had nothing to do with core pieces of the party’s platform such as health care or immigration. Instead, it went for something much simpler: destroying our online privacy. In doing so, the GOP and our president have not only betrayed the values of their own Republican Party, but of all Americans.
The new law, passed by the US Senate last week, enables Internet providers to sell your online history and data without your consent. That privacy and consumer advocates should balk at rolling back protective measures should come as no surprise. No, the real shock comes from the idea that anyone could oppose online privacy in the first place. What were GOP leaders, the original originalists, the ones who hold true to strict interpretation of the Constitution, thinking? This legislation contradicts the Fourth Amendment and even worse, redefines “We the People” as commodities of information for sale.
When your health information and browsing history become cash transactions, you have to wonder what’s really going on here. Is it about money? Big business? Lobbyists? GOP leaders have framed broadband regulations as restrictive to business as opposed to protective of individuals. In doing so, they throw a nation of states to the wind, leaving the onus of privacy to individual legislation within each state.
Put your liberal and conservative beliefs to the side for the moment—this policy helps no one. It’s not about the role of government. It doesn’t address finding the right balance between individual privacy and national security. It endangers your safety and cedes control of your personal information.
The resolution strips the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), our primary authority for communications law, of its power to protect you. Such responsibility, passed by President Obama, was designed to enhance online privacy protection. Instead of having to opt out of Internet providers collecting your private information, you had to opt in. In doing so, Obama took the power away from companies and placed it where it belongs: in the hands of the people.
Opposition to Obama’s laws came from the current administration, Congress, and, most oddly, from within the FCC itself. Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai opted to impale his own commission, redefining communications law in the 21st century as something from the middle of the last one.
You’ll hear Republicans tell you this fixed an unfair advantage that tech companies had over Internet providers to sell private information. True, because these companies don’t fall under FCC jurisdiction, they don’t have to follow the same limitations. If you frame the story that way, then Republicans have a point. Why should Facebook have easier access to your information than Comcast? The playing field should be even, which Pai once felt it was when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had jurisdiction over online privacy issues. But if there was ever a caveat—a proverbial fly in the ointment—read on.