Senate Votes to Overturn Internet Privacy Rules

A recent 50-48 Senate vote seeks to overturn privacy regulations enacted under the Obama administration.

The rule basically barred internet service providers (ISPs) from gathering, storing, and then selling your internet use to advertising firms or other interested parties. The privacy regulations were enacted last fall by the Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commission, something Republican leaders have been working to undo.

These regulations in no way interfered with the work of law enforcement, but instead pertained primarily to advertisers. So what’s wrong with advertisers knowing a little bit of information about you? After all, advertising makes the internet affordable, and wouldn’t you rather only see ads for products you actually want?

Take this example. Mastercard filed a patent in 2015 for a concept that allows it to track your purchases and then sell that information online. One of the proposed purposes is reportedly figuring out what size clothing you buy, what types of food you buy, whether you have a gym membership or not…and then informing the transportation companies about your approximate size based simply on your purchase history. In theory, this could be used to spread passengers’ weight evenly throughout the plane, train, or bus, but privacy advocates fear that it’s really about discriminating against overweight consumers by charging larger passengers a higher fare.

In a much more ominous case, law enforcement officials were granted a warrant that was served to Google, demanding all of the IP addresses—the “signature” that individual computer connections are assigned when online—for everyone who searched for a specific person’s name over a two-month period. The name belongs to a victim of identity theft, and officials want to locate everyone who looked up the victim’s name. Google, who states that it doesn’t even have the technology to track and provide that information, has refused to comply on the grounds that IP addresses are not as foolproof as something like fingerprints and therefore don’t provide the name of the actual perpetrator.

Some politicians say this move to strip away the privacy regulations won’t change anything about consumers’ internet privacy, but techxperts disagree. One of the chief rules in these regulations is that your ISP has to get your permission before turning over your internet browsing history, the apps you use, your health and fitness information (something that’s gathered if you use a fitness tracker, for example), and your physical location.

One of the interesting features about today’s current political climate is the fresh wave of activism that citizens are engaged in nationwide. More and more consumers are reaching out to their representatives and weighing in on a large number of hot-button topics, and advocates expect that this issue will be no different. Individuals who wish to contact their Representatives—as the vote will now go to the House—can locate their names and contact information by clicking here.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

Read next: Spring Cleaning for your Mobile Device

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