The Somewhat Hidden Harm

Many are saying that the Trump administration and the Republican controlled 115th Congress aren’t getting anything done. That is not completely accurate. Distracted by Russiagate they are getting little done, but what is being accomplished is almost all bad for the average American. Today I’d like to look at one example that has largely flown under the radar.

Senate Joint Resolution 34 repealed an Obama era regulation that was designed to protect the internet browsing privacy of individual Americans. Under the Obama era regulation ISPs, (Internet Service Providers), were barred from selling your browsing history. The Republicans and Trump administration think that is a fine source of revenue for them and repealed the rule.

It started with the Senate voting 50-48-2 on March 23, 2017. The two not voting were Georgia’s Johnny Isakson and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, both Republicans. The 50 ayes were all the remaining Republicans; the 48 nays consisted of the 46 Democrats and two independents that caucus with them.

Five days later the House voted 215-205-9. All the ayes were Republicans while 15 of them did join all Democrats in voting against the bill. To say both votes were along Party lines is a fair appraisal of the situation.

On April 3, 2017 President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.

In fairness this may be much ado about nothing. However the principle and the potential for real harm are both deeply disturbing!

Americans value their right to privacy. We realize and accept that modern technology and the need to be vigilant in the face of terrorism and other threats compromise that right to a degree. It is nearly impossible for ISPs to make our browsing experiences as fast and seamless as possible without collecting browsing histories. I like the idea that I can get to the New York Times and the Washington Post by using a dropdown menu or typing in as few as two letters every morning. If law enforcement legitimately needs to get to my browsing history and is granted a search warrant by the courts I’m willing to accept that.

My browsing history is just that – mine! I paid for my ISP service therefore the record of how I used it belongs to me unless there is a need to serve me better or I’m a threat to society. The current contemporary practice is for ISPs to sell history to advertisers. Based on your search history an advertiser may or may not find you to be a potential customer worth contacting. For example if you have been searching automobile sites Ford may want to contact you. In that case no harm done. You can either click on or ignore their banner ad or email.

How long will it take before some background search service(s) decides to incorporate browser search history in their portfolio of services? What if a prospective employer rejected you because they didn’t like the sites you were looking at on your dime and time? Think that is farfetched? How far off the “logic” of the Hobby Lobby decision is it? There are employers who view employees not as people who work for them a certain number of hours a week for a specific compensation package, but more like slaves that they own and therefore have a right to control the lives of.

I’ll take this one step further, (basically by using the rhetoric of the far right when they defend the Second Amendment a bit too vigorously), what if we are confronted with a tyrannical government who wants to suppress political activity not in line with their philosophy? I attack the actions of the Trump administration several times a week in this column. What if by simply reading my work the government decided to label you a subversive?

Trump has suffered several high profile legislative and legal defeats during his brief time in office. The Republican controlled 115th Congress has been able to pass very little legislation. What has been done has actually hurt the average American while placating the short term greed of a select few.

Russiagate and the like are critically important. While we pay attention to that we cannot ignore the negative (mainly regulatory repeal and lack of enforcement) actions coming from the Congressional Republicans and Trump administration.

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