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Our friends at Fight for the Future let us know that an important vote on privacy rules is happening today. We want to pass on the information so you know who to call to express your concern about who collects and disseminates your personal data:
Today at noon, Congress is expected to vote on whether to gut the FCC’s broadband privacy rules that prevent Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon from collecting and selling your personal data without your permission.
In just a few hours Congress could roll back these landmark rules that many of us fought hard for last year.
And get this-- the 22 senators behind this controversial resolution have received more than $1.6 million from the very same companies that would profit from us losing our broadband privacy rights.
Here are the names and phone numbers of the lawmakers who we need to side with us to protect broadband privacy rights:
We can’t let this happen. Call Congress right now.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665 @lisamurkowski
Sen. Susan Collins (202) 224-2523 @SenatorCollins
Sen. Jerry Moran (202) 224-6521 @JerryMoran
Sen. Cory Gardner (202) 224-5941 @SenCoryGardner
Sen. Benjamin Sasse (202) 224-4224 @BenSasse
Sen. Dean Heller (202) 224-6244 @SenDeanHeller
If these privacy protections are removed, ISPs will be able to do the following :
Monitor and sell all your location data, search history, app usage, and browsing habits to advertisers without your permission, hijack your search results, redirecting your traffic to paying third parties, and insert ads into web pages that would otherwise not have them .
This is going to be a close vote. We’ve included the names, numbers, and twitter handles of key members of Congress who could vote to uphold current broadband privacy rules.
Call them now. Tell them to protect our privacy. Here’s a sample script you can use:
“Hi, my name is ______, I’m calling to ask Senator _____ to vote against the CRA proposal to roll back the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. Please don’t let Internet Service Providers sell my personal information without my permission.”
This vote is happening very soon, please call or contact these key members of Congress now.
Depending on where you live, there may be more opportunities these days to participate in marches, demonstrations, or community political meetings. Regardless of whether your beliefs lean red or blue, you may be like many other Americans and wonder what the future holds for federal telecommunications policy. Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge recently wrote a piece that stressed the importance of local decision making authority and how municipal networks can rise above reversals anticipated by the new administration’s FCC.
Tannenbaum looks at four policies that are likely to be or have been adjusted from current practice to a new approach under the Trump administration:
- Digital Inclusion
- Network Neutrality
- Corporate Consolidation
Cambridge has considered developing in its own municipal network for a while and Tannenbaum connects the dots between the investment and local control over these issues. While he describes the situation in his own community, it can apply to many other places on the map; he reminds us that decisions about connectivity can and should be local.
While telecommunication policy is thought of as national, in reality, it’s a matter of whose cables and services reach which home. That decision can be a very local one. A free, fair, open, and affordable Internet for Cambridge is within grasp. All Cambridge needs to do is build one.
By building its own network, Cambridge can ensure that its infrastructure reflects its values and the needs of its residents, not the values and needs of Comcast and Verizon.
Check out the full article, Municipal Broadband Is Municipal Resistance, on Medium.
Consumers should be able to expect a certain amount of privacy and recent rules adopted by the FCC are a step in the right direction. That step has also revealed some key differences between profit-driven national Internet service providers, smaller ISPs, and municipal networks. The different attitudes correspond with the different cultures, proving once again that small ISPs and munis have more than just profit in mind.
On October 27th, the FCC adopted an Order to allow ISP customers to determine how their data will be collected and used. According to the FCC, they made the decision in response to public comments about the concern for personal data protection.
The New Rules
Over the past few years, consumers have become savvy to the fact that ISPs have access to personal data and that they often sell that data to other companies for marketing purposes. Under Section 222 of Title II of the Communications Act, telecommunications carriers are bound to protect their subscribers’ private information. Because those rule are designed to change as technology changes, says the FCC and Congress, this same authority applies to private data collected by ISPs.
The FCC decided to divide the permission of use of personal information based on type, categorizing information into “sensitive” and “non-sensitive.”
Sensitive information will require ISPs to obtain “opt-in” consent from subscribers, which will allow them to use and and share this type of information:
- Precise geo-location
- Children’s information
- Health information
- Financial information
- Social Security numbers
- Web browsing history
- App usage history
- The content of communication
Non-sensitive information would include all other information and customers would need to "opt-out" in order to prevent their ISPs from collecting such data. Examples of non-sensitive personal information include service tier information.
According to a 2014 Enforcement Advisory, cell phone and Wi-Fi jamming by state and local law enforcement is illegal by federal law. And yet, persistent allegations of jamming are coming from Water Protectors at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. Any jamming by law enforcement to monitor protestor cell phone communications is a serious breach of their Fourth Amendment rights as it amounts to unreasonable search and seizure. First Amendment rights of freedom of speech are also compromised when the method of transmitting reports is purposely blocked.
In order to pressure the FCC to determine whether jamming is happening in North Dakota, MoveOn.org has posted an online petition. From the petition:
Proving or disproving allegations about jamming is very difficult for anyone except the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. Only the FCC can work with wireless providers, protesters, and local law enforcement to find out definitively what’s going on. The FCC is the only expert agency with authority to require law enforcement to disclose their use of any wireless devices and the only agency with the expertise to assess what is actually happening. If the FCC investigates and finds that there is no illegal jamming happening, then it can settle this concern. If the FCC discovers that there is illegal jamming happening, it has an obligation to expose the jamming and use its power under federal law to order local law enforcement to stop interfering with First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
As Harold Feld writes in his recent blog article, that the presence of IMSI catchers or Stingrays, leaves signs that the Water Protectors are experiencing at Standing Rock - sudden loss of a strong signal at inopportune times, cell phone batteries depleting quickly and inexplicably. Cell phones not only allow them to communicate with each other, but allow them to document law enforcement reaction:
The Decentralized Web Summit: Locking the Web Open will happen on June 8th and 9th at Internet Archive in San Francisco. The event will be live streamed if you can’t attend in person.
The event is a discussion of the future of the web. From the Summit website:
The World Wide Web is fragile. Links break and website content can disappear forever. The Web is not universally accessible. It is too easy for outside entities to censor connections, controlling what people can and cannot view on the Web. The Web is also not very private, exposing users to mass surveillance by corporations and governments. A Decentralized Web can address all of these problems by building in privacy, security and preservation by default, ensuring that websites are easily accessible to all as long as at least one person somewhere in the world is hosting a copy.
Keynote speakers will be Vint Cerf, considered one of the “Fathers of the Internet” and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google; Cory Doctorow, Special Advisor at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive.
The list of presenters includes a number of innovators, tech leaders, and journalists. Panel discussions cover a range of relevant topics, including innovation, privacy, and security. There will also be workshops and Q & A to address your specific concerns.
You can check out the schedule, register to attend online, and learn more about the decentralized web by reviewing some of the resources the team has made available. The event is sponsored by the Internet Archive, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Google, and Mozilla.
It has been an open secret that AT&T maintained a cozy relationship with the NSA, but only recently has the extent of that relationship been revealed. AT&T had no qualms about illegally providing enough Internet traffic data to forge a relationship fondly described by the NSA as a "highly collaborative."
Edward J. Snowden provided documents chronicling the relationship; ProPublica and the New York Times reviewed them jointly. In that information:
One document reminds N.S.A. officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, noting, “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”
It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.
The NSA’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency.
Whether or not those data gathering programs still operate today is unclear. While AT&T is not identified by name in the documents provided by Snowden, former intelligence officers and corroborating evidence strongly suggest that the telecom giant is the company that exhibited an "extreme willingness to help" the NSA collect information for the Fairview program.
Since the story broke about the NSA domestic spying practices, debate among concerned citizens has revolved around the Big Brother surveillance model. Most of us shudder at the thought of our federal agencies from DC watching, noting, and recording our actions. However, there is another type of Internet surveillance that largely escapes notice and likewise threatens our liberty.
Both types of surveillance are perversely encouraged by a poorly regularly market that allows big corporations to profit from violating our privacy.
We have long known that our online habits are being recorded and combined with other personal data that allows companies to show us personalized ads. But Free Press recently offering a compelling explanation for how this model can harm us. From the Dana Floberg article:
And about those “personalized ads” — this isn’t about Facebook learning you prefer Coke over Pepsi. This is about corporations targeting us where we’re vulnerable. This is about your Latina neighbor who sees ads for risky high-interest credit cards. This is about your cousin who just got laid off and now sees ad after ad selling him dangerous fast-cash offers and subprime mortgages. This is about your friend who lives in a rougher part of town and sees higher prices whenever he shops online. This is about all of us.
These ads aren’t personalized — they’re predatory.
Floberg goes on to describe how shopping sites alter prices based on income and location so more affluent shoppers can access better prices and coupons. These sites both use and reinforce stereotypes as they take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society.
Without laws to protect consumers, there is little we can do to stop this predatory behavior. Just as the market encourages corporations to violate our privacy to sell its goods, big corporations are also profiting in their work with law enforcement at all levels.
An AP article by Anne Flaherty notes that AT&T charges $325 to activate a wiretap and $10 per day to maintain it. Verizon charges the government $775 for the first month and $500 per month after that to continue it. It is hard to believe these charges are in line with actual costs.
We have not wirtten much on the NSA spying scandal but encountered a recent article in the Guardian that our readers can appreciate. Rory Carroll reports that Xmission, one of the local Internet service providers working with UTOPIA, has long refused to turn over private data to local, state and federal officials absent a proper warrant.
"I would tell them I didn't need to respond if they didn't have a warrant, that (to do so) wouldn't be constitutional," the founder and chief executive, Pete Ashdown, said in an interview at his Salt Lake City headquarters.
Since 1998 he rejected dozens of law enforcement requests, including Department of Justice subpoenas, on the grounds they violated the US constitution and state law. "I would tell them, please send us a warrant, and then they'd just drop it."
We spoke with Pete Ashdown of Xmission last year in the third episode of our podcast and hold him and his firm in high esteem.
Unlike large, distant corporate providers focused on short term profit, local providers like Xmission understand the value of accountability and character. Big corporations are generally more interested in winning big government contracts than protecting the rights of their subscribers.
[Insertion by editor Christopher:] After all, what does Comcast care if I hate its assistance in shredding the Constitution, it isn't like I have another choice for high speed Internet access in my home.[end Insertion]
According to Ashdown:
The agency's online snooping betrayed public trust, he said. "Post 9/11 paranoia has turned this into a surveillance state. It's not healthy."
Comcast specifically does not guarantee that the equipment and services will: (1) Meet your requirements, (2) Provide uninterrupted use, (3) Operate as required, (4) Operate without delay, or (5) Operate without error. Nor do they guarantee that the communications will be transmitted in their proper format. So basically, if you want digital services you can rely on to work how you expected them to work, when you expected them to work, then Comcast can’t provide that to you. According to their limitation of warranties (section 10), what you are paying for each month is the possibility of having service that works as advertised, but they can’t promise anything.There is a mention in there about Comcast having the right to monitor whatever you do with your connection. The next time you hear people complaining that their local government may spy on them if the public owned the network, ask if they prefer being spied on byh unaccountable corporations that want to sell their private surfing habits. After all, the private sector has more motivation to spy on subscriber activity than the local government. The full post is worth reading - though it does not cover the entire Comcast contract:
The Comcast Subscriber Agreement for Residential Services is too long to continue to write about in a single post. I may come back to it and do a second part if necessary. This list, however, represents what are the most important provisions in the contract for customers to know about. It’s not a good contract for the customers, and it’s a very good contract for Comcast. But if you want their services (and in many places you don’t have a choice, as they are essentially a monopoly), then you have to play by their rules.