(Photo by Eric Gross, used under a Creative Commons license)
On Monday, President Trump signed a bill into law that will allow your internet service provider (Comcast, Verizon and even companies like AT&T) to sell your web browsing history, without your permission, for a profit — in addition to all the money they collect every month from you in fees.
So when you were looking up info about venture capitalists, or trying to find a drug treatment program for your brother or researching information on birth control — all that is going to be up for sale to the highest bidder. Maybe you don’t look at porn on the internet, but if you did, I’ve got some bad news: that history is going up for sale, too.
This is all a violation of your privacy.
Two hundred and sixty five members of Congress, many of whom have received big contributions from internet companies, were happy to sign this bill. The author of the bill, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), has received nearly $700,000 from large internet companies and lobbyists
over the years.
Some members of Congress still have their assistants print out their email. They aren’t the sharpest pencils in the box when it comes to understanding the internet. But they are cashing big checks and making big calls about your private information.
The companies plan to sell it to advertising companies and then where will it go? How good is the security at those advertising companies? Will your personal browsing history be hacked and published? Facing a growing backlash from the public, some ISPs have promised not to sell your data, but as soon as Trump signs this bill, the law will say otherwise.
In fact, Congress may not have thought through all the possibilities when it approved this law — even for themselves. Crowdfunding campaigns run by angry constituents have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and publish the browsing histories of Congress. Max Temkin, founder of Cards Without Humanity, has vowed to buy and publish their Internet histories, no Kickstarter required. Some experts doubt that that is technically
possible or wise, but it may indeed be possible for bad guys to hack an advertising company and blackmail a politician.
— Max Temkin (@MaxTemkin) March 27, 2017
And it is certainly a sign of constituents’ anger. Bipartisan anger. As Steve Colbert said recently, this is a bad idea “we can all hate together.” That includes smaller, smarter internet companies that
opposed the move. Local hero DuckDuckGo doesn’t even collect your search history for ethical reasons — nothing collected, nothing that can be sold or hacked. However, your browser history will still be available to your ISP to do with it what it wants.
But since Trump has signed this bill into law, it looks like we’re going to have to handle this ourselves. Here are some steps you can take to follow this issue and let politicians feel your pain.
1. Realize that members of Congress still care about getting re-elected.
That means that calls, faxes, visits and town meetings still influence them, especially if you are a constituent.
2. Get informed.
Set a news alert for updates on “Internet privacy.” Sign up for news from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Probably the leader on internet privacy in Congress is Senator Ron Wyden from the State of Oregon. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for his newsletter. People who care about Internet privacy need more allies, so it’s important to let members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, know that you care about this issue. You can also follow Internet freedom activists like @trevortimm, @emptywheel, @geminiimatt or me (@aidspol) 😀
3. Fifteen Republican members of Congress broke ranks to vote against this awful bill. You can call and just thank them for that.
Or fax them a simple note (“Dude — Thanks for caring about my privacy and opposing Senate Joint Resolution 34!”) free from your phone or computer. Calling or faxing your Congresspeople —including the good ones who voted against this bill — is a powerful thing to do. FaxZero.com lets you fax members of Congress free, and you don’t have to listen to busy signals. Members of Congress do keep track and it influences their decisions. In 2017, we should all learn to do this.
The list of House Republicans who voted against this bad bill is here and the whole House vote is here. You can also call or fax your Philly representative and thank them for protecting your private information (they all did except for Sen. Pat Toomey — you can call or fax him, too).
4. Talk about this issue with your family, friends, and neighbors — and share it on Facebook and Twitter.
This is super important. Congress was able to get away with passing this law because two weeks ago, most people were not paying attention and were not yet informed. We can change this by talking about it — and not just with your tech-savvy friends and co-workers. After all, privacy is a personal issue for all of us.
5. Try out a new privacy-protecting tool.
I’d vote for Signal, a phone app that encrypts your phone calls and texts (download it for iOS or Android). Or try the Tor browser (download it at www.torproject.org), which allows you to browse the Internet anonymously, so there is nothing for your internet company to track and sell.
Faster than Tor (though not anonymous) is a VPN but picking one is tricky, and there’s nothing except ethics to keep that VPN provider from selling your browsing history.
I’d suggest trying out riseup’s VPN. riseup is a famously ethical nonprofit organization committed to user privacy and human rights. The riseup VPN does not log your IP address, unlike most other VPNs (again: nothing logged means nothing to share, sell or hack).
Says independent security researcher Nima Fatemi:
“Picking a good, secure VPN — even for tech-savvy people — can be a difficult. There are very few service providers I know that don’t have any interest in the users’ data and take active measures to either prevent having access to it in the first place or secure it if they have. Riseup.net and Calyx.net are two of them.”
Calyx is also operated by a nonprofit organization with a strong track record of ethical behavior.
By letting members of Congress know how you feel, telling your friends and relatives and upping your online security, you can have a powerful impact on the right to privacy that we all deserve.