With so much turmoil in the political landscape since President Trump has taken office you could be forgiven for missing important legislative decisions that are being made in the background. Just last week, on a party-line vote, the Senate voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2016 broadband privacy rules which were put in place to protect consumers by giving them control over how their ISPs use and share their personal information.
The House of Representatives are expected to vote to repeal these rules and the bill will then be sent to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
The consequences of this action are significant: ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T, and Charter will be free to sell your personal information to anyone willing to pay for it without your knowledge or permission. You will have no recourse and the Federal Trade Commission will no longer have legal authority to oversee these ISP practices. Furthermore, the bill will prevent the FCC from adopting any similar rules in the. In other words, if this bill passes, the nations’ strongest internet privacy protections will not only be eliminated but they cannot be revitalized by the FCC. Your data is now free to be sold to the highest bidder.
How do these rules protect you?
The Telecommunications Act of 1996, at the time, was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in over 60 years. President Clinton signed the bill into law and the intent of this legislation was to create more competition in the industry, which would be a boon for the economy but just as important, this bill required a telecommunications carrier to protect the privacy of their customers’ personal data.
In 2015 broadband internet was classified as a telecommunications service in updated legislation known as “Net Neutrality”. Within this new legislation, the same protections that customers of the telephone network have had for decades were applied to ISPs as well.
The FCC’s internet privacy rules do some very important things to protect your personal information. Today, the FCC is able to protect you and your data in four key ways:
• Implement reasonable data security practices to protect consumers’ personal data
• ISPs must protect the confidentiality of consumers’ private information from unauthorized use and unlawful disclosure
• ISPs may not use, disclose, or allow access to consumer’s personally identifiable data without the express consent of the consumer.
• ISPs are required to publicly disclose information regarding network management practices, performance, terms of service, and data privacy practices to allow consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.
WITH THE BILL QUICKLY MAKING ITS WAY TO THE DESK OF PRESIDENT TRUMP, THE NATION’S STRONGEST PRIVACY PROTECTIONS WILL BE REPEALED LEAVING THE FCC POWERLESS TO REVIVE THEM IN THE FUTURE.
THE RULES SERVE AS A BASELINE FOR THE ENTIRE INTERNET ECOSYSTEM
Telecommunications firms such as Comcast, Verizon and their friends in Congress argue that existing rules adopted by the FCC are unfair and tilt the playing field in favor of internet rivals such as Google, and Facebook who are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission with less stringent standards regarding consumer data.
Democrats argue that there is an important distinction between companies like Google and Facebook and ISPs who are in a more unique position in the internet ecosystem. Unlike Facebook, where you have the option to visit their site or not to share your data, your Internet Service Provider is able to know every website you visit, how long you visited a site, what hours of the day you visit a website, your exact location, and even the type of device you are using.
YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER VISITING A PARTICULAR WEBSITE AND CAN CHOOSE WHAT SEARCH ENGINE YOU USE; YOU WILL NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER WHAT YOUR ISP CAN SEE OR SHARE AND IF YOU WANT INTERNET, YOU’LL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO LET YOUR ISP COLLECT AND SHARE YOUR DATA
If a level playing field was the primary concern here, one must ask why Congress has decided to repeal the only broadband privacy protections available to consumers today instead of passing a law to enforce Google’s and Facebook’s of the world to meet the higher FCC standards ISPs currently adhere to that provides more protection to consumers.
What you can do
The fight is not over and the President has not yet signed the bill so there is still time to reach out to your local representative. However, if we assume the bill passes, and it does seem likely, there are some steps you can take to protect your data.
- Log out from search engines and their tools
- Whether you realize it or not, every time you log into Gmail or Google’s other free online tools, you are being monitored. Your search history is collected and ads will display based on your web browsing experiences.
- Use your browser’s privacy mode
- All of the major search engines provide a feature to enable privacy mode. This option will prevent your browser from saving your web history, cookies, and disable tracking.
EVEN WITH THESE STEPS, YOUR ISP IS STILL ABLE TO SEE EVERY SINGLE WEBSITE YOUR VISITING AND IF THE SITES ARE NOT ENCRYPTED YOUR DATA TRANSACTIONS ARE POTENTIALLY VULNERABLE AS WELL.
- The most secure option to protect your data from your ISP is using a VPN
- VPN services are available for free and for purchase all over the internet. There are many great options to choose from. A VPN will change your IP address and effectively route your Internet activity through a remote third-party server, concealing your search activity and making your web browsing completely anonymous, which can further protect you from hackers and ISPs who may want to collect your information for resale.
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