Wednesday, 29 March 2017 11:11

US House votes to strip users' Net privacy protections Featured

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Internet users in the US have had privacy protections voted in by the Obama administration stripped away, with the House voting 215-205 to pass the measure.

Last week, the Senate approved the move 50-48 and it now is left to President Donald Trump to sign it into law.

Internet service providers will now be able to sell customer data to the highest bidder and compete with companies like Google and Facebook which use such data to target online advertising.

Under the rules passed in October last year, allowed consumers to prevent ISPs from sharing data such as app and browsing histories and mobile locations.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that last year, the FCC had pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of "favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies".

"Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect," he said. "It is worth remembering that the FCC's own over-reach created the problem we are facing today.

"Until 2015, the Federal Trade Commission was protecting consumers very effectively, policing every online company’s privacy practices consistently and initiating numerous enforcement actions. However, two years ago, the FCC stripped the FTC of its authority over Internet service providers.

"At the time, I strongly opposed usurping the FTC, and the FCC’s struggles to address the privacy issue over the past couple of years (along with its refusal to recognise consumers’ uniform expectation of privacy) has only strengthened that view.

"Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework. In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a body that acts to protect digital freedoms in the US, said, if the bill was signed into law, companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon would have free rein to hijack searches, sell data, and hammer users with unwanted advertisements.

"Worst yet, consumers will now have to pay a privacy tax by relying on VPNs to safeguard their information. That is a poor substitute for legal protections," the EFF's Ernesto Falcon said.

"Make no mistake, by a vote of 215 to 205 a slim majority of the House of Representatives have decided to give our personal information to an already highly profitable cable and telephone industry so that they can increase their profits with our data. The vote broke along party lines, with Republicans voting yes, although 15 Republicans broke ranks to vote against the repeal with the Democrats."

He said if Trump signed the bill into law, big Internet providers would have new powers to harvest personal information in "extraordinarily creepy ways".

"They will watch your every action online and create highly personalised and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder. All without your consent. This breaks with the decades-long legal tradition that your communications provider is never allowed to monetise your personal information without asking for your permission first.

"This will harm our cyber security as these companies become giant repositories of personal data. It won't be long before the government begins demanding access to the treasure trove of private information Internet providers will collect and store."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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