WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Congress has stirred the online hornet’s nest.
Outrage is growing at Republicans after a controversial vote Tuesday to repeal internet privacy protections that were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration.
Privacy advocates, consumer groups and the tech community are attacking the decision. It was quickly panned by the editorial board of The New York Times and by commenters on conservative media outlet Breitbart News.
“This is one of very few Obama-era regulations that should have stayed,” one commenter wrote on Breitbart on Tuesday night.
Another responded: “Totally agreed! this is an attack against freedom.”
Ray Hutchins with Denver Cyber Security firm said the amount of data ISPs can collect is much bigger than anything we’ve seen before.
“They’re getting emails, they’re getting phone calls, they’re getting text messages, geo-location information, everything. All the websites we’re getting, they are collecting all of it,” Hutchins said.
The rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing data. The providers have data on web browsing history, app usage and geo-location.
Providers would also have been required to notify customers about the types of information collected and shared.
Currently, with sites that collected personal data, like Facebook and Google, you have the option to opt out of the collection of your data. Hutchins says with the new law, you may not have that choice. He also says that means you can throw your privacy out the window.
“Law enforcement can just buy this information and use it. The IRS can just buy it and use it. Your employer can just buy this information, your browsing information, your texts, who your texting, who your calling, you can just buy it,” Hutchins said.
“You don’t have anything you can do. You’re just a victim of this thing and that’s what’s not right about it. We need to have an opt-in or an opt-out provision where we have to give our permission before this stuff is sold.”
Fight for the Future, a digital rights group that helped organize protests for net neutrality, is planning to put up billboards naming the legislators who voted to repeal.
“Congress should know by now that when you come for the internet, the internet comes for you,” Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement before the vote. “These billboards are just the beginning.”
The tech industry, which has been relatively quiet on issues such as net neutrality under the new administration, also expressed dismay at the vote.
Vijaya Gadde, general counsel at Twitter, tweeted it’s “time to start using a VPN at home” in response to the news. A VPN, or virtual private network, is one option to protect your online identity.
“You better believe the big ISP’s already have teams & plans in place to capitalize on this ruling,” Erica Baker, an engineer at Slack, wrote on Twitter.
Some frustrated internet users have even gone so far as to launch a crowdfunding page to buy internet data belonging to members of Congress.
The Senate voted along party lines to undo the rules last week. The resolution now goes to President Donald Trump’s desk. The White House said Tuesday it “strongly supports” the repeal.
Nonetheless, groups are now calling on Trump to make good on his populist campaign rhetoric by vetoing the legislation.
“It does provide an opportunity for President Trump,” the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit organization, said in a statement. “He can show that he is on the side of the people by vetoing this measure.”