Congress and Internet privacy: Ode to the dawn of the twilight

Jay Leiderman
By: Jay Leiderman
March 29 2017

Ode to the dawn of the twilight

Nothing much happened today. Nothing much at all.

Congress did some stuff. Whatever. Well maybe not exactly whatever. See, there was formerly an uncodified mandate that ISPs (the mega corps that provide you with internet service) not do things like sift through, store and sell your browsing data. To much fanfare and celebration, 5 months ago, companies were formally banned by the FCC from selling your browsing history.

Today Congress reversed that ban.

These are the members of Congress that voted to violate your Internet privacy rights

Big deal, right? Stop with the histrionics. Whatever.

I mean, it is a big deal to lawyers and journalists and such like folk doing research and contacting sources and needing privacy to exist and whatever, but fuck us anyway. Journos spew fake news and lawyers, well … lawyers. Lol.

If only it was going to end here.

Alas, several things are in the sights of Congress that are much, much worse. For example, the FBI wants to ban encryption for use by private persons. I use encryption. I need encryption. Are you an encrypter? You will be. Oh, you will be. But terrorists use it too. So it’s got to go. I feel safer already.

Same thing for VPN services that don’t log their internet traffic. Are their days numbered? There have been major rumblings.  Ask your nephew what that means. I already have to explain net neutrality to you. Anyway…

Internet Privacy
As if the NSA and FBI spying weren’t enough …

And then there is net neutrality. On its way out. Gasping for sir. Here’s how the good folks at Wikipedia define net neutrality: “Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

So you know how you have to pay more for Showtime and HBO? How’d you like to pay more to use FaceBook or Twitter? Or have it be unavailable from your local provider? Or if you have to pay more for access if you’re a business. Trust me, you can live without it. It’ll eventually come to basic internet anyway after 5 seasons (I know, I’m about as punny as Dennis Miller and 1/100th as clever).

Don’t sweat it though. Seriously. It’s really good for the bottom line of companies like Comcast and Time Warner that provide you internet service. That’s good for business. Those are the job creators, people. Job creators.

And then, invariably, there will be the rebirth of SOPA or some other incarnation. My Google machine says this about SOPA: “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a controversial United States bill … to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to combat online copyright infringement and online trafficking in counterfeit goods.” Every major internet company worth its salt opposed it and it died. But…

Letting ISPs collect and sell your Internet browsing data is just the first of many privacy violations to come

Let’s again be honest. Ugh, too much honesty here. Online piracy is a scourge and its seed (see what I did there?) should be wiped from the face of the earth. It matters little that we should give up freedom – like the right to privacy in the computers in our own home – to stamp out piracy. Piracy! FFS, Piracy! It’s not just your patriotic duty as an American, it’s your duty as a citizen of the world to stop the dialogue about the transmogrification of copyright law and the advancement of Creative Commons licenses. Your turn to google, I’m tired. Plus, Lars Olsen needs a new Maserati. (I know. Shut up.) Plus, the NSA has already shown it can be trusted with all of your data. (NSA: Some used spying power to snoop on lovers, 9/27/13, CNN). So there’s that.

What’s my point. As you might have guessed, I don’t have one. Or can’t remember it. Ahh, whiskey.

But there’s this. I wanted to share this with you: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” That’s it. That’s my point. The classic by Big Benny Franklin. Played out though, dontcha think? Encore with Dock of the Bay, exit stage right, whatever. That can’t be my point of this offhanded diatribe.

Information is the new currency
Each action you take on the Internet leaves a distinctive fingerprint. Your data has become your identity. Information is the new currency

No, this is my point. I actually have one. It is this quote by William O. Douglass, former US Supreme Court Justice. Please consider this, as we move forward into a new frontier of constraints upon our liberties that seek to chill the digital revolution and make our thoughts less safe, our lives less creative and our souls less alight with the joys only freedom, true, unfettered freedom, can provide:

“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

Ode to the dawn of twilight indeed.  Stay vigilant my friends.

13 thoughts on “Congress and Internet privacy: Ode to the dawn of the twilight

  1. Specifically, that information usually has to do with domains. Web encryption like HTTPS will hide what you do once you’ve connected to a domain — they can see a user connected to, but not which articles they read or which comments they left — but it’s hard to disguise the connection itself.

    That information is more detailed than you might think. Maintaining an optimal network also means collecting a lot of potentially sensitive data about internet traffic. Whether you’re watching Netflix or playing an online game, the path between you and the server is constantly shifting, and network operators are continuously monitoring where and how you’re connecting. Part of providing good service means finding the shortest path between you and the destination server. But if Verizon is going to find the shortest path between my house in Brooklyn and an Overwatch server in Vancouver, it needs to know that I (or at least an IP address linked to my name) am playing Overwatch at 3AM on a Thursday night. To me, that’s sensitive information; but to the network, it’s just an optimization problem waiting to be solved.

    The most immediate thing affected by the FCC ruling is what regulators call Consumer Proprietary Network Information, or CPNI. That’s the information your service provider needs to connect you to the internet. Verizon can’t connect you to the internet if it doesn’t know your name and where you live. It can’t maintain your connection if it doesn’t know your IP address. It’s all information providers already have. The question is just what else they’re allowed to do with it — and without the Wheeler rules, it’s much more likely that companies will use it for marketing.

  4. At the same time, the absence of firm rules could be the whole point. Pai is a free-market conservative, and believes that companies will typically find the optimal solution without government interference. Holding off on setting new rules could be right in line with that philosophy, leaving companies to make their own judgments on customer data without fear that they’ll be punished for overstepping FCC guidelines. Unfortunately for privacy-minded consumers, that would leave few legal protections for private data shared with carriers.

  5. That brings us to the privacy rules. Through a rarely invoked law, Congress was able to take back the privacy rules set by Wheeler, effectively undoing his interpretation of what the Telecom Act says about customer data. That leaves a gap: we don’t know how Chairman Pai will interpret the law, or what rules he’ll set. He might replace them with looser rules that take after the FTC or wait to roll back the Title II interpretation overall. But until he acts, we can’t say for sure what carriers will be allowed to do.

  6. The privacy rules set by previous FCC chairman Tom Wheeler — the ones that just got repealed — were our first indication of how that customer data could be treated now that broadband and wireless service were classified under Title II, the big net neutrality decision made back in 2015. In many ways, the rules are less like a law than a promise of enforcement. Basically, this is what the FCC thinks the Telecom Act means, and if they think you’re violating the Telecom Act, they’ll sue you for millions of dollars. As a result, it’s very much in companies’ interest to follow the rules.

    The Telecom Act says a lot about what companies can do with customer data in general — but because it was written with copper telephone networks in mind, it’s genuinely unclear how to apply those principles to data like browsing history and IP logs. That’s where the FCC comes in, interpreting the Telecom Act to say which kinds of data fall under which provisions of the law.

  8. This is a trickier question than you might think! Let’s take a step back: telecom regulation isn’t like criminal law, where the word of the law draws a clear line between what’s legal and illegal. Most of what the FCC does is interpreting the same law — the Telecom Act of 1934 — to apply to modern technologies like wireless internet and broadband.

  9. On some level, it’s being left up to internet service providers, or ISPs, to decide what the rules do and don’t allow them to do. And while none of them are very clear about their intentions, there’s plenty we can suss out based on what we already know. So to cut through the haze, we pulled together everything you need to know about the current state of online privacy rules.

  10. With the protections gone, no one’s quite sure what to expect — some suspect their browsing habits are going up for sale, while others see no changes coming whatsoever. That uncertainty and confusion is justified: the rules Congress shot down were meant to clarify an existing set of already vague and confusing policies.

  11. Congress shot down the FCC’s internet privacy rules this week, and in doing so, created a world of confusion over what Americans should expect when it comes to online privacy. The gutted rules would have explicitly prohibited internet providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from sharing your web browsing history with other companies, and they would have put firm restrictions around how your data could be used. But this week’s joint resolution effectively turned back the clock to before the rules were proposed, opening the door for far more aggressive data-sharing.

  12. Is your digital life private? A lot depends on your provider
    President Trump’s repeal of FCC rules for internet service providers means your data is – potentially – far less secure.

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