Congress Just Voted To Kill Consumer Broadband Privacy Protections

from the the-almighty-dollar dept

Despite a last-ditch effort by the EFF and other consumer and privacy groups, Congress today voted to dismantle privacy protections for broadband subscribers in a 50-48 vote. The rules, passed last October by the FCC, simply required that ISPs clearly disclose what subscriber data is being collected and sold by ISPs. It also required that ISPs provide working opt out tools, and required that consumers had to opt in (the dirtiest phrase imaginable to the ad industry) to the collection of more sensitive data like financial info or browsing histories.

Another part of the rules, which simply required that ISPs were transparent about hacking intrusions and data theft, had already been killed off quietly by new FCC boss Ajit Pai.

The rules were seen as important in the face of greater consolidation in an already uncompetitive broadband market, where said lack of competition eliminates any organic market punishment for bad behavior on the privacy front (unlike the content or other industries). Now, with neither broadband competition — nor meaningful regulatory oversight — privacy advocates are justifiably worried about the repercussions to come.

The rules were killed by using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to dismantle recently approved regulations with a simple majority vote. While the rules really were relatively straightforward, telecom lobbyists spent months deriding the rules as “onerous regulations” that would be “too confusing” for consumers, potentially stifling sector “innovation.” Industry lobbyists also consistently pushed “studies” proclaiming that ISPs really don’t collect much consumer data, in stark contrast to, you know, the truth.

One of the proposals sponsors, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, went so far in a speech Wednesday night to suggest that the rules somehow “restricted constitutional rights” (of giant ISPs like Comcast, apparently):

“In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, said the FCC regulations were an example of a ?bureaucratic power grab.? “Passing this CRA will send a powerful message that federal agencies can?t unilaterally restrict constitutional rights and expect to get away with it,? Flake said.”

ISP lobbyists had spent countless hours trying to convince lawmakers that FCC oversight of privacy was unnecessary, and that the FTC alone was well-equipped to handle consumer privacy complaints in the broadband sector. But in a recent interview, former FCC boss Tom Wheeler made it abundantly clear that this was largely bullshit — and the goal is to shovel off privacy oversight to an FTC without rule making abilities, already overloaded by other enforcement obligations:

“It?s a fraud. The FTC doesn?t have rule-making authority. They?ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.

So it doesn?t surprise me that the Trump transition team???who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept???comes in and says, ?Oh, we oughta do away with this.? It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that?s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.”

In other words, the goal is quite simply to gut oversight of one of the least competitive (and most anti-competitive) sectors in American industry. First by hamstringing the FCC’s oversight of the sector, then by inevitably pushing bills that hinder the FTC’s oversight as well. All told, today’s vote is one of the more embarrassing examples of our broken, cash-compromised legislative process in recent memory.

Update: Here’s the roll call breakdown of who voted for or against the measure, in case you’re the type that actually likes accountability.

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Comments on “Congress Just Voted To Kill Consumer Broadband Privacy Protections”

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65 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

I mean imagine if someone rents out a house. It would be a violation of their constitutional rights if some overzealous regulator were to pass a law stating that they have to make it clear to potential renters that they have cameras set up to record what people do in the house, and make the recordings opt-in rather than opt opt-out.

Likewise, requiring Comcast and company to tell customers what they are scooping up and allowing customers the chance to avoid having their data collected is a clear violation of their constitutional rights, as is almost certainly enumerated somewhere in the Bill of Rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

the chance to avoid having their data collected is a clear violation of their constitutional rights

What part of the Constitution begins with “Comcast shall make no contract clause”?

I can’t seem to find it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

Wait a second… this is not really apples to apples here.

The expectation of privacy is there, and because the government has granted a monopoly for these companies which literally prevents people from being able to use Free market to escape their corrupt grasp then perhaps the Constitution should apply to any business literally operating as an extension or agency of the Federal Government the way ISP’s do.

These bastards are directly in bed with each other, even if they do not want to be because the law requires them to be little government bitches.

I think you have forgotten about how this regulation business works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

I think you have forgotten about how this regulation business works.

FCC made up these rules unilaterally out of thin air. The proper way is to introduce legislation and put it to a vote by your elected representatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

You will not find any argument from me… if they actually did their jobs.

But they are just nitpicking the regulations they decided they don’t like without doing any work or due diligence management for the people they “claim” to represent.

So if they are going to spring to action, they need to spring on all of it and not just the ones they got paid to pay attention to. So yea, let the regulate, but do it correctly as well and not like a bunch of half assed dick suckers with Telco jizz dripping from the corners of their mouths.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

Even the quoted guy in the article who is against the FCC creating these rules says about the FCC:

“their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive.”

I consider it deceptive that a company can bury their data collection and sales deep in some fine print clause that no one reads.

I consider it unfair that I have no bargaining power against these companies in that situation because there are no other options. It’s either do business with those companies who will sell my information, or go without. And going without the internet in this day, age, and country is not really an option anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

“I consider it unfair that I have no bargaining power against these companies in that situation because there are no other options. It’s either do business with those companies who will sell my information, or go without. And going without the internet in this day, age, and country is not really an option anymore.”

This is exactly why I rail against the “Regulation” machine. This is always the end result of regulation. After all, we asked them to regulation for us, and they said… well we regulated, now we don’t need your opinions or input, we are only doing what you wanted us to do. This is why Free Market must be available to people so someone that does care will see that they can now start a business that DOES give consumers what they want and make millions! Right now… that is impossible to have because of regulation, and Big Business loves it that way. They just cry about regulation to keep people thinking that they hate it when big businesses actually LOVE regulation because it can be bought! And for cheap too!

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

"FCC made up these rules unilaterally out of thin air."

What a meaningless complaint. Companies engage in anti-consumer behavior that everyone hates, FCC introduces rules to prevent that behavior. That’s exactly what government regulations are supposed to do. The only people who would complain about this are those financially benefiting from abusing consumers, plus of course their paid shills and beholden politicians.

"The proper way is to introduce legislation and put it to a vote by your elected representatives."

Yes we know that’s how’d you’d prefer it’s done, because you know those reps have been sufficiently bought off to prevent anything happening. Could you be any more obvious?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

If that’s how you want to go I can play that game too. What part of the constitution says that the government cannot create rules limiting what companies are and are not allowed to do? What ‘constitutional right’ is a rule saying that companies need to respect customer privacy violating?

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

What part of the Constitution begins with "Comcast shall make no contract clause"?

I can’t seem to find it.

Can you find the part where it explicitly states that just because something isn’t in the Constitution doesn’t mean it’s not a right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

Constitution grants power, not privileges. Any power not addressed in its passages are powers not granted. The bill of Rights serves as a list of things the Government are not allowed to touch period.

Quick, tell me which of the 3 branches follows any bit of the Constitution.

Will give you a hint.

The words has 2 N’s, starts with N, and end with E.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Violation of Privacy are Protecting the Consumer

1) You cannot violate the rights of citizens simply because you put it in a “contract”. Similarly, citizens may not simply waive their rights for a service. It happens all the time, but it is always a violation.

2) Contracts are to be negotiated, not forced upon one side who has no choice between two completely evil options – if they are lucky to have two or more. This has also been a problem forever. (With, you know, contract language which one party may unilaterally change at any time, with or without notice. These are “contracts” in name only.)

FocusOnTheProblemNotSymptom says:

Target the advertisers to win

If we focused on the problem and not the symptom we could make headway with the American people.

The bottom line, the base, the root cause is advertisers want and get access to every detail of your personal information.

Someone show me a clause in the constitution that says ADVERTISERS have a right to our information?

Go after companies that use this advertiser information.
Boycott them just like AT&T is boycotting Google ads right now for placing their ads next to terrorist videos.

Go after congressional reps that accept that advertisers have the right to our information. Ask them if the reason they support it is a) the NSA finds this an easy method of tying your behavior to actions, b) advertisers have put money into their campaign coffers, c) they don’t understand the implications of letting ISPs sell our usage data?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Target the advertisers to win

A boycott is a good idea, but there’s one key problem. Who do we switch to? If you’re lucky enough to have two choices for broadband providers, they will both undoubtedly scoop up your data. I guess switching to dialup would at least mean there’s less data to collect.

If you mean a boycott in the sense of using Tor or a VPN to keep them from making money from my data I’m on board. I just hope the overhead of tunneling netflix doesn’t push me over my data limit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Due to their class and position they would likely be hit with very serious charges for doing so.

Remember… they get a different set of rules from us. There are very few Senators & Congress Critters compared to serfdom citizens… their privacy is assured because there is an interest for them to be protected. The serfs? the ignorant voters that can only seem to vote the wrong way? yea, we usually get just exactly what we deserve for being obtuse easy to fool shits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, we are sorely in need of a Constitutional Amendment that clearly states that any law levied against citizens shall be enforced upon all Elected Representatives of Government 1 year in advance, and no exceptions to this by way of “national security/emergency/disaster” shall be allowed either.

But hey… we don’t give a shit when they ignore the constitution so I am guess any rule we make now will just be ignored.

The only way the Citizens can peaceable win back their government now is by voting out everyone that even looks in the direction of ignoring the constitution. But the Party Doctrines have been rigorously entrenched in the minds of the people now. so fat chance!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Where to from here?

Exactly the problem with regulation. Regulation is subject to the whims of whoever is in charge. Regulation is what has caused this mess. You want the problem fixed? Let the free market develop and deploy countermeasures to these ISP’s that want to snoop. This false since of security the Gov has created in passing regulation that both no one really follows, and has no teeth, is IMO more dangerous than no regulation at all. Let encryption, vpn’s, TOR’s, determine if we are secure not the Gov. The added bonus to taking ownership of your own privacy is not only does it make it harder for these snooping ISP’s, but also the Gov….. not impossible, but much harder and costly.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Where to from here?

Expected counterargument: “That’s because the free market hasn’t developed enough for there to be actual competition in your area, because there’s so much regulation preventing it from developing. Get rid of the regulations that are getting in the way, and you’ll see competitors become available, so that you have choices in the free market.”

It’s not entirely clear which regulations are supposed to be getting in the way, there; the closest thing to a specific example I remember having seen argued for is the wireless-spectrum allocation and noninterference rules, which forbid anyone from using spectrum without permission from whoever it’s been allocated to – and of course, without that rule, as soon as two people start trying to provide service in the same frequenceis you get so much interference that neither of them actually provides useful service.

Exactly what the analogous obstaculatory (neologism!) regulations on the wired-service side of the fence are supposed to be I’m not clear about.

kallethen says:

Someone pointed out in the comments of Ars Techinca’s coverage how way back when there was a law past that prohibited video rental stores from sharing information of what tapes you rented. The reason it was past so quickly? Because a judge’s rental history was released which was quite embarrassing.

Perhaps that’s what needs to happen now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Trump may be our only meaningful shot at surveillance reform.”

I really think this is a long shot. Sure Trump is no Obama, but the guy is certainly comfortable in his own skin and more than willing to be a dictator if the chance presents itself.

He would only be angry at surveillance on his self, he would not care one lick about surveillance of the little people he means to rule over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“He would only be angry at surveillance on his self, he would not care one lick about surveillance of the little people he means to rule over.”

When has any other President show/done anything differently? Obama, Clinton, Bush, they all supported Government surveillance. Not to mention Hillary and countless other Senators. None of them supported any reform until it became a major issue. I don’t think you need to localize the guilt to just Trump. As guilty as he may be, there is a well documented and long standing tradition of screwing the American people out of their privacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_on_mass_surveillance

http://time.com/4150694/hillary-clinton-calls-for-more-surveillance-to-fight-terror/

http://dayontheday.com/2014/05/29/foundation-for-enabling-patriot-act-started-with-clinton-and-democrats-not-bush-43/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_(2001%E2%80%9307)

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Get a VPN and install it on your router

I don’t trust my ISP. I have the same VPN as Dave, and a tomato router configured to put all traffic on the VPN. The tomato router is placed between the local network and the ISP router. So all traffic that touches the ISP router is encrypted and sent via some exit point (PIA has thousands of servers in dozens of countries), which basically masks my location.

The one exception is when I have need to use a website that blocks VPN’s. The only one I have run into is Craigslist, which I only use when I am shopping for a new used motorcycle. Not often.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Get a VPN and install it on your router

What’s a good way to set up a whitelist of sites (Netflix, say) that shouldn’t go through the VPN? I was looking into this earlier today; I’m using pfSense and it looks like it’s doable.

Here’s a thread I found:
https://forum.pfsense.org/index.php?topic=108178

But it’s for the Swedish version of Netflix; not sure if the US version uses the same domains/IPs.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Get a VPN and install it on your router

As far as I can tell there are several motivations for websites to block VPN’s. One is abusive people, in the Craigslist case the possibility that VPN users might place false ads or false responses. In Netflix case it is more likely that they are succumbing to MAFIAA’s threats to reduce available content because of the ridiculous regional blocks. In both cases, I think there may be better ways to control abusers, like billing addresses, though that might not work for Craigslist false responses. In either case, it means more work for the website. They don’t want you watching US content when you are in the EU, even if the exit point is in the US.

I am not aware of any way to white-list sights from the user standpoint as they are using IP addresses to do the block. Many people using VPN’s have the same IP address.

That pfsense looks like it is about letting your actual IP address through, which in my mind voids one of the purposes of a VPN, at least in part. I use different exit points on the VPN to get access to different content. For example,when talking to my bank over Skype, we had a bad connection. I asked them where they were and the told me the Philippines. I switched to an exit point in Hong Kong, and talked to them without issue.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Get a VPN and install it on your router

That pfsense looks like it is about letting your actual IP address through, which in my mind voids one of the purposes of a VPN, at least in part.

Well, yes. That’s why I’m looking for a targeted way of doing it, only for sites where it’s necessary.

Another choice would be to sign up for a VPN with a static IP, but that of course removes anonymization, another of the purposes of using a VPN.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Get a VPN and install it on your router

You would have to look up the domains and IPs… which can change. So you would have to update this if you have trouble reaching Netflix later.

As for dns leaks, is dnscrypt not implemented in pfsense? (Or can it not be implemented and not interfere with pf.) Have not looked at pf in ages.

Jeffie (profile) says:

It is necessary now to use a VPN and Other Privacy tools!

This is not the first time when it has happened! But this definitely is one of the substantial blows to internet users’ privacy. So many are right here about using reputable VPNs (I personally started using one around a year ago). It is a great way to deal with such issues but you definitely need more tools to be more secure like using data encryption, email encryption, secure messaging and similar things. FOr this I would love to share an infographic (https://www.purevpn.com/blog/8-tools-to-enhance-online-privacy/) which talks about the tools which have become immensely important for privacy in 2017!

MN says:

Current

You already got a crap sucking your good live if you ever have one. Now I give you an advise. Got a basic math skills.
0.0001% of your populations , IT MEANS 5 FAMILIES ARE RULING 330 MILIONS PEOPLES BECAUSE THEY HAVE YOUR MONEY. ARE YOU STUPID OR YOU THINK YOU WILL GET EHAED. THIS IS WHAT DONAL TRUMP LIKE A RUSSIN CRAP FROM 1900. show THEM THAT TIME HAS CHANGED, AND ASS WILL BE KIKED ON A LITTLE ONES TERMS.

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