Pictured is Senator Richard "Dick" Shelby, a U.S. Senator who voted to end Obama-Era regulations on Privacy.
Last week, I put out a call to action to contact your Congressional Representative because of a bill that had passed, with little fanfare, the Senate aimed at removing Obama-era privacy protections for consumer privacy. While over 1,000 of you responded to this request, the measure unfortunately passed the House and the 100 pages of FCC regulations aimed at protecting user privacy is now no more.
While the Internet was outraged by a, now redacted, article posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), about a test program that users can opt-out of, Internet Service Providers (ISP) have not yet rapidly capitalized on the release of these regulations. In fact, the first people to capitalize on this loosening of regulations have been the people who most opposed their loosening in the first place! Self-proclaimed privacy advocate Adam McElhaney, has set up a viral GoFundMe page with the intent to crowdfund the money required to purchase the internet history of the Senators and Representatives who voted for these rollbacks.
This is dangerous.
- It could be a scam. GoFundMe barely polices how funds are used after a successful campaign, and there is little to prevent Adam McElhaney (or copy cats) with walking off with $192,000.
- Most of the damning evidence is public record. Simply put, we don't need to know what dirt Ted Cruz's ISP has on him; we know he received $45,500 from AT&T, $32,800 from Comcast, and $21,200 from Verizon simply by looking at public records. This should be enough to know why he voted to roll back privacy protections.
- We lose the moral high ground. Arguments about privacy are a tricky thing as privacy means different things to different people. What doesn't change, however, is that privacy shouldn't be conditional; supporting an unpopular opinion should not remove rights that we're arguing should be universal.
- It starts a war that we cannot afford. Consider Shava Nerad's comments on the matter: "It will end up as a war of internet histories being published, people being horrified that, say, Al Franken likes underage porn, and then -- oops! -- the correction being printed on page three of section B, as it were."
This scenario is not far-fetched; it's almost guaranteed! Consider the suspiciously well-timed public releases from FBI Director Comey about Hillary Clinton being "under investigation" for the mishandling of classified e-mails, and then -- oops! -- they found her innocent of any wrong doing a week later. Twice! Less than a week later, we had a new President Elect that pre-scandal had little-to-no hope of securing the presidency. Pulling similar shenanigans off for a smaller target (like a senator or congressional candidate) would be far easier.
- It doesn't actually help anything. The idea that we can simply shame these Member's of Congress (MoC) into renegging on their reversal of Obama-Era privacy regulations is naive. It won't cause enough of them to suddenly change their minds, influence the others in the Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass a new bill, and convince Republican Donald Trump to pass said bill into law; nor will President Trump create his own regulations.
So, what should you do instead?
You should start by reading up on Privacy. The links below will get you spun up on how data ownership is a threat that will never fully go away, how to defend your home network against attackers and encrypt your traffic to prevent snooping from ISPs, and how even the little bit of data that you share willingly can snowball into information you'd rather no one know about.
You can keep going by installing a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. There are literally countless options, so pick the one that best suits your needs by asking yourself a few questions (i.e. Do you want to have it on your computer, or your router? Do you care about internet speed, or anonymity more?) and then set it up. One example of how to do that, plucked from thousands of YouTube tutiroals is below:
Protect yourself, and help others protect themselves. Just - whatever you do - don't start a fucking Doxxing war. Do not normalize the kind of behavior that says "It's okay to violate someone's privacy if I disagree with them." That's not what Privacy is; and that's not what the Internet is built for.