Privacy and Net Neutrality: Two Key Fights for Online Freedom
By Chris Conley
Every time you launch an app, download a video, or browse the Internet, your Internet traffic flows through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). They are the gatekeepers of the information age. If you’re at home, it might be your cable or phone provider (AT&T, Comcast, etc.) or a specialized ISP like Sonic. If you’re using your mobile phone, that’s your cellular carrier, maybe AT&T or Verizon. Either way, everything you do online depends on your ISP relaying messages to and from the Internet to your phone or computer.
Yesterday, the ACLU — along with many other organizations and companies — highlighted the need to defend Net Neutrality to make sure your ISP doesn’t get to pick and choose what you see. Specifically, Net Neutrality ensures that you can actually access the content you choose, so that your ISP can’t decide to block or slow down online sites or services they don’t like, whether it’s a company like Netflix offering content that competes with the ISPs own cable TV channels or a web site whose political views the ISP doesn’t like (like, for example, a pro-union site blocked by a Canadian ISP while the union was on strike). The wealth of information on the Internet doesn’t mean much without Net Neutrality.
But beyond giving you the power to choose which websites you visit or apps or services you use, it’s also crucially important that you also have the power to decide who knows what you read or do online. Because all of your online traffic is funneled through your ISP, they have access to a huge amount of information about what you do online, which means they know if you’ve searched for information about depression, visited the Planned Parenthood website, or used Tinder every night for the past week.
And now Congress has rolled back the FCC’s privacy rules, giving ISPs the ability to share that information about you with others without meaningful consent from you.
That’s not fair. We already give ISPs our money to connect to the internet; we shouldn’t also have to pay them with our privacy, too. What’s more, the power of the Internet to let us connect and share about deeply personal and sensitive topics will be undermined if our ISPs can turn around and expose our questions and actions about everyday things like sexuality, religion, political protest, health, and more, without our consent or even our knowledge.
But we can do something about that here in California. Assemblymember Ed Chau has introduced a bill (AB 375) that would require ISPs to obtain real consent before sharing information about our web browsing, app usage, and more. But it’s encountering fierce opposition from the ISP industry, who would rather have the right to use that information for whatever purpose they choose — which might be “just” advertising, but there’s no real limit — without your consent. So now is the time to take action.
The bill has three hearings scheduled for next week, before the Business and Professions, Utilities and Judiciary committees. It’s important that members of those committees hear from you that you want not only the freedom to choose what you do online but to choose who gets to know about it. So please click to Tweet at the members below and let them know that you support #AB375, and when it comes to #BroadbandPrivacy, ISPs need to #AskFirst before sharing our data!
Business & Professions Committee — Monday July 17, 2017
Utilities and Energy Committee — Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Judiciary Committee — Tuesday, July 18, 2017 OR Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Chris Conley is a Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.