A move by House Republicans Tuesday to end internet privacy protections further exploits vulnerable communities already marginalized and under attack by President Trump’s White House.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 215 to 205 to pass resolution SJ Res. 34, overturning an Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule requiring internet service providers to get customers’ permission before selling sensitive consumer data such as browsing history.
The vote broke along party lines, with all but 15 Republicans voting in favor. The measure has now passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled Congress and is on Trump’s desk, ready to be signed.
By revoking the federal government’s strongest online privacy regulations, Republicans have signaled they are “more than willing to rubber stamp Donald Trump’s corrupt agenda, making the President’s friends in big business their top priority—and Black folks their last,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of racial justice organization Color of Change, said in a statement.
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“The data that big corporations collect from Black broadband users leads to predatory marketing, which starts at a young age and lasts throughout our lives. Without the crucial FCC regulations implemented last year, Black and marginalized communities will continue to experience online price gouging, data discrimination, and digital redlining,” he said.
Facebook recently banned developers from using data to conduct surveillance on activists, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that police tracked and targeted protesters involved in movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL, which rely on social media platforms to spread information. Advocates say the effects of loosening privacy regulations are deeply concerning for vulnerable populations in the United States.
If Trump signs the bill, the cable and telephone industry will have easy access to personal user data to turn a profit. Racial justice and civil liberties groups are demanding that tech companies hold the Trump administration accountable and fight for people’s privacy in court.
Repealing broadband privacy restricts freedom and reduces liberty, Malkia Cyril, executive director at the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement.
“There are some that would falsely claim that low-income communities would rather be tracked by AT&T, Comcast and Verizon in order to get discounts online than have their constitutional right to privacy protected—but that’s utterly ridiculous and insulting,” Cyril said. “At a time when authoritarianism is on the rise, we will continue to fight with targeted communities against racially biased mass surveillance and for the digital rights of unheard communities. I wish Congress would do the same.”
Not only would the law allow companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon to access and sell people’s personal data, but consumers who want to pay to safeguard their information would have to pay extra for VPNs—a “poor substitute for legal protections,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international digital rights nonprofit.
“It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon,” ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement. “President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans. Trump should use his power to protect everyone’s right to privacy.”
SJ Res. 34 would give big web providers new powers to harvest personal information “in extraordinarily creepy ways,” allowing them to “watch your every action online and create highly personalized and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder, all without your consent,” EFF noted. “This breaks with the decades long legal tradition that your communications provider is never allowed to monetize your personal information without asking for your permission first.”