AT&T Throwing FundRaiser For Senate Chair Ahead Of Privacy Hearings

from the nothing-to-see-here dept

Scandal after scandal after scandal has resulted in many finally realizing that the United States is likely going to have to craft at least some basic privacy guidelines moving forward. The problem: with so many justly wary of Congressional Luddites screwing it up, and so many wealthy industries lobbying jointly to try and weaken the potential guidelines, this isn't going to be a pretty process. If we come out of it with anything even closely resembling a decent privacy law for the digital age (one that doesn't make things worse) we'll be very fortunate.

But it's hard to craft much of any meaningful privacy rules when Congress is so grotesquely beholden to the industries they're supposed to be holding accountable. That was made pretty obvious when the telecom sector lobbied to kill some basic FCC privacy guidelines the FCC had approved before they could even take effect back in 2017. Those rules simply required that ISPs be transparent about what data is being collected and who it would be sold to, something that could have proven extremely useful in the wake of these revelations of carriers selling your location data to any and every nitwit in America.

And as Congress begins holding public hearings to contemplate what privacy rules should look like, telecom giants like AT&T are again likely to have an outsized influence on what those laws will likely look like. For example, AT&T and other telecom giants will be holding a fundraiser for Senator Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the night before a major hearing on privacy regulations:

"According to the invitation for Tuesday’s fundraiser, which will be supporting a group backing Wicker’s reelection called RFW PAC, it costs $1,500 to attend the event as a guest, $2,500 to attend as a sponsor and $5,000 to co-host. The next day Wicker’s committee will hold its first hearing of the new Congress on crafting comprehensive data privacy legislation — a key issue for the telecom industry."

The fact that a huge swath of folks don't see a problem here speaks to how Sisyphean the effort for meaningful privacy rules is going to be. Like so many problems (like health care or broadband availability), you can't actually fix the problem until you address government corruption. And you can't fix government corruption until you address lobbying reform. And you can't fix lobbying reform thanks to... lobbying. It would be funny in a Keystone-cops-esque way if the end result wasn't so repeatedly and painfully tragic.

AT&T is, you'll recall, a company busted charging broadband users $500 more per year just to opt-out of snoopvertising, effectively making privacy a luxury option available only to those who can afford it. It's the same company busted selling user location data to shady middlemen, covertly modifying user packets to track users around the internet, and with a long, deep history of not only sucking up to the NSA and spying on Americans, but also advising the government on how best to tap dance around existing wiretap and privacy laws.

Again, AT&T is the very last company you want having any additional leverage when it comes to crafting meaningful privacy law. Especially given that this Wednesday's hearing is already missing any objective experts or consumer groups in the testimony lineup. And yet they're likely to have more of an impact on what our looming new privacy law looks like than probably any other companies short of Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Filed Under: fundraiser, lobbying, privacy, roger wicker, soft corruption
Companies: at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 6:30am

    State Actors

    They don't even care that are violating the spirit of the law because they will never have to pay for any of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 6:58am

    So you can expect the kind of privacy laws to come out of this akin to the UK pron laws - you are private in name only (i.e. to other consumers) but in order to maintain this level of privacy the telecoms companies must know who you are and what you are doing at all times.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the first thing they discussed was banning VPNs as they prevent accurate privacy management.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      I wouldn't put it past them to discuss banning VPNs, but it would be tricky to pass any such ban.

      It's true that even a sharply divided Congress passed FOSTA almost unanimously, so a "think of the children!" narrative can result in passing ill-thought-out Internet legislation. But I think we could probably expect to see a lot more pushback on anti-VPN legislation, because corporate VPNs could be impacted. It's a lot harder to pass legislation when major corporate donors are raising hell about it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:17am

    And the hoi polloi aren't invited

    Hearings are good. They are designed to collect information from appropriate sources. Of course the design of the hearing matters. When only those who (like AT&T in the article above) will economically benefit from the results of the discussion going their way are, with their like brethren, are the only ones invited to testify, there is a fault in the design. I suspect that the Chair of the meeting is the lead designer, and given the article above, there is good reason only half the story gets told in the hearings.

    "Like so many problems (like health care or broadband availability), you can't actually fix the problem until you address government corruption. And you can't fix government corruption until you address lobbying reform. And you can't fix lobbying reform thanks to... lobbying."

    I think we should consider amending Shakespeare's admonition to 'First kill all the Lawyers' to 'First kill all the Lobbyists'. That many lobbyists are also lawyers isn't necessarily a bad thing. (I don't really hate lawyers, well not all of them, but lobbyists...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:28am

      Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

      Fun fact: when Shakespeare wrote it, the word didn't mean "attorney;" it meant "lawmaker."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:54am

        Re: Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

        Now that would be an interesting mental exercise. The problem is that given the power of the party national committees, and the corruption, replacing them would be the equivalent of reinventing the problems with a new set of actors subject to the same disease.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 10:13am

          Re: Re: Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

          I am experiencing exactly that within the VA. I am convinced that its policies for care have been usurped by the dea.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

        Unelected lawyers are making law within the justice dept. Too bad Shakespeare was only kidding about getting rid of all the lawyers first.

        AND, at&t in the same sentence with the word privacy must surely be a typo or just bad grammar.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

        Who made taking a fight to the courtyard illegal? Was it a lawyer or a lobbyist?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 10:24am

      Re: And the hoi polloi aren't invited

      I liked the first part of your summation, but then you got mushy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:40am

    'For sale: Politician. Cheap.'

    The next day Wicker’s committee will hold its first hearing of the new Congress on crafting comprehensive data privacy legislation — a key issue for the telecom industry."

    The only way this could be any more blatant an attempt(likely successful, because let's be honest, politicians are trivial to buy off) to buy the politician in question would be if the hearing was hosted by the telecom industry, at one of their headquarters.

    A 'fundraiser' literally the day before hearings start makes clear that they are buying a politician and they know that none of the others(or the press) will call them out on it(except perhaps in a 'hey, I wouldn't look askance at some of that money' way) because the system has grown so corrupt that such actions is considered perfectly normal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 7:59am

    INT. RESTAURANT - DAY

    A NOISY restaurant popular with lobbyists. Power photos on the wall. Table hopping. People SHOUTING greetings across the room. Waiters in long aprons. Tommy is having lunch with Tommy O'Connor

    O'CONNOR You're a gentleman, Tommy. We can always do bid'ness -- I like that in a Member.

    TOMMY Thank you, Tommy. I love you too.

    O'CONNOR Listen, I'd like to do more money for you -- I just need to know your positions on a few issues. For instance, where are you on sugar price supports?

    TOMMY Sugar price supports. Where do you think I should be, Tommy?

    O'CONNOR Shit -- makes no difference to me. If you're for 'em, I got money for you from my sugar producers in Louisiana and Hawaii. If you're against 'em, I got money for you from the candy manufacturers.

    TOMMY You pick.

    O'CONNOR (writing) Let's put you down as for. Now what about putting limits on malpractice awards?

    TOMMY You tell me.

    O'CONNOR Well, if you're for 'em, I got money from the doctors and insurance companies. If you're against 'em, I got money from the trial lawyers. Tell you what, let's say against. Now how about pizza?

    TOMMY (indicating his plate) I'll stick with the salad.

    O'CONNOR Not for lunch, shmuck, for PAC money. A lot of the frozen pizzas use phony cheese. There's a law pending requiring them to disclose it on their labels. Where do you stand?

    TOMMY If I vote for the labels...then I get money from the dairy industry...

    O'CONNOR Good...

    TOMMY And if I vote against the labels, I get money from the frozen food guys.

    O'CONNOR Excellent! And don't forget the ranchers, because they get hurt if pepperoni sales go down!

    TOMMY (laughing in admiration) A pepperoni lobby. I love this town.

    O'CONNOR So which is it?

    TOMMY Fuck the cheese people. Thanks to them my office smelled like smelt for a week.

    O'CONNOR All right. For.

    TOMMY So Tommy, tell me -- with all this money on every side, how does anything get done?

    O'CONNOR It doesn't! That's the genius of the system!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kallethen, 26 Feb 2019 @ 8:47am

    What is truly sad is that this behavior is basically standard procedure these days.

    https://gizmodo.com/big-pharma-gives-big-money-to-the-senators-who-will-que-1832891994

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 8:47am

    Want decent federal-level privacy rules?

    Then undo that republicorrupt CRA that killed the FCC's privacy rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 9:11am

    I keep misreading the headline as saying somebody threw a chair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 9:13am

    I miss the good old days when these deals were in shady backrooms because they feared getting caught and prosecuted.... Now they turn the payoffs into a party and everyones doing it so it is okay...

    Setup a slush fund to pay off those they sexually abused... with our money. Rolled back the rules that made it illegal for them to engage in insider trading.

    Perhaps instead of draining the swamp we need to add more water and watch them go under.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 9:17am

    It's "try TO," not "try AND."

    english101

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 12:48pm

    can we make this Fair??

    how about that all the agencies that are doing this... That the People has the right/ability to GRAB all the info on those agencies...IN A REASONABLE TIME, At the same price that they acquire OUR info.. Sorry cant do that, as they would force the costs up to charge US more to get their data..

    Ok, ALL FOIA to agencies and corps requests must be fullfilled in 90 days or less, and all files based on monetary transactions can NOT be edited..At a cost of free. along with this, is that All gather personal info can NOT be sold, only gathered and shared.(cant make money if they Cant pay for it, not tax deductible, cant sell it)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:50pm

    Karl,

    I have seen you repeatedly say over the past few years that AT&T charged people for privacy.

    The language AT&T used at the time seems similar to the language used by many (all?) advertising firms.

    Language that says they will continue to collect and utilize information on you but that the information they have and still continued to collect will just not be used for ad targeting.

    Saying that they charged users for privacy gives AT&T more credit (little as it is) than they actually deserve.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2019 @ 2:13am

    ... and the root of the problem is

    "And you can't fix lobbying reform thanks to... lobbying"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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