Why Americans should be worried about their online, broadband privacy

Over the last couple of months, the dialogue surrounding government surveillance and consumer privacy has shifted in a troubling direction. While news outlets are covering everything from false claims of wiretaps to outlandish claims of reconnaissance microwaves, Republicans are quietly taking real and dramatic steps to protect corporate profits at the cost of your privacy. A few weeks ago, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) filed bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that, if passed, will permanently eliminate broadband users’ privacy protections, affecting nearly everyone who uses the Internet.

The legislation allows broadband providers to access and sell consumers’ information without their permission. As our gateway to the Internet, Broadband Internet Service Providers – commonly referred to as ISPs - have access to a wealth of personal information, from our physical location to our shopping habits and the medical issues we research - can reveal potentially sensitive details about our personal lives.

Take a moment to picture the implications of this rollback. This is not just a collection of your Internet usage and data from one website, but bulk collection of all of your network traffic. A corporate broadband provider can collect every search, every website visited, every article read online, see how often you log into and use your various online accounts and even, in some cases, collect your location. Think about what someone could conclude from this information about you-your overall health, risk activity, political affiliation, preferences. What could they do with that information? Could they change pricing of goods and services depending on your income and past purchasing behaviors? Could you face challenges obtaining insurance due to perceptions on your health or risk behavior based on your search activity? This rule change will literally allow broadband providers to have access to your entire personal life on a network and sell it.

After years of advocating for further consumer protections, in October 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a responsible and commonsense step to establish broadband privacy protections―but only months later Republicans are trying to roll back the progress made and repeal the existing rules, fighting alongside corporate broadband providers.

The legislation is unnecessary, as the FCC has already taken steps to review the rules, pausing implementation to conduct a careful examination of the complexities of implementation. The Republican legislation, would stop this process, bypass public comment, and eliminate the privacy protections permanently and irrevocably.

That is why I am drawing attention to this critical issue, before it’s too late.

In the past, I’ve been a leading cosponsor of many bills aimed at defending the open Internet and protecting individuals’ right to privacy, including: the Email Privacy Act, which protects American’s online communications from warrantless government searches; the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, the most significant federal attempt to protect student data in decades; the SPEAK FREE Act, which would enhance free speech protection for consumers on the Internet. I will stay vigilant in this fight to protect broadband Internet users and American’s right to privacy.

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