Bad Take: Rep. Sensenbrenner's Response Over Internet Privacy Concerns: 'Nobody's Got To Use The Internet'
from the and-nobody's-got-to-vote-for-you-either dept
As we've explained, with Congress voting (and the President signing) a bill to kill off the FCC's broadband privacy rules, things are not necessarily as bad as some might have you believe, but they're still bad. And lots and lots of people seem to be asking their elected representatives why they did this. After all, despite the fact that the vast majority of both Republican and Democratic voters supported the rules (as they did with net neutrality rules as well...), in Congress everyone lined up along party lines over this issue, with Republican members of Congress voting down the rules.
At least some are now facing backlash over this... and they don't seem to be handling it well. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner seems to have what may be the worst possible take on this after being asked about it. He told a constituent, to maybe just not use the internet if you don't like it. That linked article only has part of the quote, but here's the video of the question and the response:
— Brad Bainum (@bradbainum) April 13, 2017
The questioner points out, correctly, that for individual services, like Facebook, people have a choice of how much they actually use them or what info they give, but for your overall ISP that's not true -- and also notes that there aren't competitive options. Sensenbrenner's answer is... maddeningly nonsensical and wrong, and basically ignores everything the questioner just said to him:
"You know, again, nobody's got to use the internet. And the thing is, if you start regulating the internet like a utility, if you did that right at the beginning, we'd have no internet. Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal services, now. And the fact is, you know, I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you. And that's what the law has been and I think we ought to have more choices, rather than fewer choices, with the government controlling our everyday lives.”
Now, it's a live situation, and perhaps Rep. Sensenbrenner misspoke. But, no, his press office doubled down on this when someone called it out on Twitter. Amusingly, the press office was trying to parse the difference between "don't use the internet" (as a Tweeter claimed Sensenbrenner said) and "you have a choice" which is... well... not a very big difference, despite his press office claiming it's a "big difference."
The idea that people "have a choice" in using the internet today is laughably out of touch. Indeed, so many things that people rely on today pretty much require the internet. Jobs, transportation, housing and more frequently require the internet. And, to put an even stronger "WTF" on Sensenbrenner's misguided statement: a big part of the problem here is the very lack of choice. The vast majority of Americans have no real choice when it comes to getting true broadband access -- as the very questioner stated, and which Sensenbrenner totally ignored. Thanks to bad policies, we have a non-competitive market, where if you want broadband, you basically have to go with one company, and then it gets access to a ton of data about you.
If Sensenbrenner truly meant what he said here, he'd have been against rolling back the rules. As small ISP boss Dane Jasper recently noted on our podcast, without these privacy rules, it actually gives the giant providers that much more power over the smaller upstarts, and makes it harder for the small providers to compete.
Also, Sensenbrenner is simply flat out wrong with his argument about "if the internet was regulated like a utility at the beginning" because it WAS regulated like a utility at the beginning and it resulted in tons of competition and innovation. Indeed, for most of the internet's early rise it was treated as a utility in terms of things like open access and line sharing. And privacy rules. It's only more recently that that went away.
Also, I have no clue what Sensenbrenner is trying to say when he says: "I don't think it's my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you." What does that even mean? First of all, it was the FCC's job, and it did so. What Sensenbrenner did here was to roll back what the FCC said. Second, even with the rules, it never said that "you cannot get advertising through your information being sold." All the rules did was say that ISPs had to tell you about it and offer clear options on how you controlled your data. Third, seriously, what is he saying when he says his job is "to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you." I honestly keep reading that sentence and cannot parse it. The privacy rules were what gave individuals choices. It gave them choices in how their data could be used. Rolling back those rules takes away the choice.
For years, we've pointed out that Congress appears totally and completely out of touch when it comes to basic tech policy -- especially related to the internet. Jim Sensenbrenner's vote and statements on this issue have only confirmed that basic fact.