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Opinion: Americans deserve a right to internet privacy

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Congress recently sparked an uproar with the passage of S.J. Res. 34, better known as the act which enables internet service providers to sell customer data and browsing history at a scale never before seen. The bill is likely to become law, especially now that President Trump has voiced his support of it.

The key facet of the bill is the nullification of rules (yet to take effect) that disallow ISPs to sell data in this fashion. It is the prime engine of its controversy, and rightfully so. This bill tramples the fundamental right to privacy possessed by American citizens, and signing it into law would be a huge mistake.

Broadband services should not be limited to those willing to surrender their right to privacy. Furthermore, the fact that much of this happens behind the scenes, through the elimination of mandating an opt-out option for consumers, is equally distressing. We sent our senators to Washington to defend our rights, not sell them out to the highest bidder.

Today, the internet is a pervasive and inescapable phenomenon that impacts every American. Through the World Wide Web, our businesses have soared to amazing heights, our people have grown more interconnected than ever before and formerly-impenetrable barriers to communication and exchange across borders have come crashing down. The awesome might of this revolutionary invention is not to be understated, so why on earth are we so freely relinquishing it to Goliathan corporations with nothing but their own interests in mind?

The vulnerable information in question is extraordinarily valuable because of its potential; companies with access to large quantities of data can determine such things as your income level, your political preferences and what products you may buy with frightening accuracy. Corporations like AT&T and formerly Time Warner Cable (now part of Charter Spectrum) spend millions on lobbying each year to loosen restrictions protecting this data so they can profit from it.  

ISPs have mostly fallen back on the argument of a free and fair market. Social media websites such as Facebook and search engines like Google regularly sell user data, and thus ISPs should have the same privilege to do so, they say. This argument ignores the greatly-appreciated services Google and Facebook provide to their customers free of charge in exchange for such a right. Furthermore, it doesn’t change the fact that our legislation stems from the will of the people — who overwhelmingly despise this proposal — rather than the will of the likes of Comcast.  

Americans must start taking internet privacy rights more seriously. The explosion of digital devices and services we’ve experienced in the past few years is only the beginning; in the coming decades, our internet services and technology will advance to levels we currently can only dream of. If we intend to benefit from this ongoing IT revolution, we must stand firm to our principles and demand rules and regulations centered on the well-being of average citizens rather than corporate profit margins.

On the bright side, this vote appears to be an albatross about Congress’ neck; an outpouring of negative coverage and public fury have made it overwhelmingly clear that this bill is rejected by a strong majority of the American people. The only question now is whether Congress and the president will listen to them and move to rectify this mistake.  

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