Update: The headline and first paragraph have been updated to reflect additional information about the history of Senate Joint Resolution 34.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Congress have created a mess of Internet privacy law. This week, Senate Joint Resolution 34 was passed by Congress and is expected to be signed by President Trump. While the resolution has a complex history, one effect of the resolution is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will no longer be barred from selling your browsing history — along with other pieces of identifying information they collect — to third parties such as advertisers. This is a gross violation of privacy. I find it unlikely the federal government will get this sorted out anytime soon.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet privacy advocate, explained what this change means for you and me:
If the bill is signed into law, companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements. Worst yet, consumers will now have to pay a privacy tax by relying on VPNs to safeguard their information. That is a poor substitute for legal protections.
The Oregon Legislature should do something about this problem. While introducing a bill that bans the practice is a noble idea, it could be found in conflict with federal law and thus be struck down. Instead, the Legislature should consider taking away some or all tax benefits given to Internet providers in Oregon if they engage in the practice of selling private browsing data to third-parties.
The Oregon Legislature has been uniquely bipartisan when it comes to issues of privacy over the past few years. I sincerely hope they will tackle this problem and once again protect Oregonians and their privacy.
Reagan Knopp is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oregon Catalyst and a political consultant focused on digital campaigning.