A knee-jerk reaction is a tricky reflex to suppress. Splitting cleanly down the middle and lining up behind partisan agendas seems to be what our country does best these days. If a bill were to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate, House, and finally signed into law by President Trump, most conservatives would instinctively cheer. And those cries of objection from the left? They would simply be the icing on the victory cake. However, this mindless herd mentality is a dangerous trap.
Nowhere did this play out more starkly than in the recent law which rolled back privacy regulations proposed by the FCC. Immediately after passing the second of three legislative hurdles, fury and outrage poured from the left. From The Washington Post: “The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections.” From The New York Times: “An Attack on Internet Privacy.”
Meanwhile, the right-wing media was accommodating. From Fox News: “House votes to block Obama-era online privacy rule.” From Breitbart: “House Votes Tuesday to Restore Consistent Online Privacy Regulation.” From RedState: “The Truth About Broadband Privacy.” That last article even ended with this explicit endorsement, “it was good to repeal the regulation.”
So, it looks like the battle lines are clearly drawn. Report to your pre-assigned positions and start defending the applicable letter on your voter registration card, right? No! It is time to buck the trend of reflexively supporting anything the GOP does. While you may ultimately end up at the same ideological position, at least you took the time to think for yourself. In this instance, for this writer, the only logical conclusion is that the Republican party did a great disservice to the American people when it comes to the issue of undoing the FCC regulations.
To illustrate the reasoning why we need to zoom out about forty thousand feet. It is no secret that the government regulates nearly everything at this point. Telecommunications is no exception, and the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for this area of the economy. These are the people who issue fines for objectionable Super Bowl halftime shows or approve satellite radio mergers. The Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, regulates most other businesses. They are the people who look into privacy complaints about Facebook and are also the folks who run the wonderfully useful Do Not Call Registry.
The distinction is important here. Amidst the net neutrality fight in 2015, the FCC also ruled that broadband and mobile internet providers belong in the same category as your telephone or cable TV provider. They were now common carriers, and as such could be considered to be public utilities. Interestingly, the FCC at the time exempted these internet companies from many of the same rules that apply to your telephone line.
In October 2016, the FCC decided to get rid of this inconsistency and created a regulation which prevented an internet provider from selling your browsing history. Perhaps figuring that because this was done under the Obama administration (see: Fox News headline), undoing this rule somehow became a top priority. The votes were brutal. With zero Democratic support, only fifteen Republican representatives opposed the measure. President Trump signed the bill into law, and now here we are.
How could the vast majority of the GOP possibly think this was a good idea? There are only two arguments that do not resort to “because of Obama” or “because of bad regulation.” The first opinion centers around the inconsistency between providers and other internet companies, in the sense that people would still be vulnerable to having their personal information collected and sold by every online business except the actual service provider. The second argument goes hand in hand with this, pointing out that these rules would prevent a Comcast or a Verizon from competing with an Amazon or a Google over consumer data.
There is no shortage of rebuttals to the Republican logic out there, and they are not hard to find if you are so inclined. Ultimately, these rules did not harm citizens. They did not limit individual freedom or restrict choice. They strengthened protections in a nebulous area against providers who have access to every single byte of data you send or receive. Republicans argue that the same rules should apply to all internet companies equally and that singling out service providers is unfair. Well then, if that is truly the case, the Republicans should just add these rules to the FTC as well, not strip them out of the FCC.
What happened with this privacy bill was unfortunate. What would be even more shameful would be for conservatives to line up in blind support. Agree with the GOP if you must, but at least take the time to form your own opinion first.
Editor’s Note: Another additional resource on this topic can be found at https://www.cloudwards.net/online-privacy-guide/