The Oregon Legislature Should Act on Internet Privacy

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.

  • thegreatpeon

    This is a similar conversation to what was discussed on the Glen Beck program’s second hour today. Some important context to remember when discussing this:

    1 – The right to privacy is not explicitly provided in the Constitution. It is an implied right from various Amendments including the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 14th.

    2 – Rights guaranteed by the Constitution are restraints on Government authorities, not private entities.

    3 – Individuals have the right to enter or not to enter into private contracts with other entities.

    4 – ISPs are services, not utilities.

    5 – This regulation was implemented ~4 months ago by then President Obama. Meaning that the change that Trump may be signing simply returns us to the state we were in prior to 4 months ago.

    From these points it is easy to see that the Federal Government has no place in telling a private entity providing a service whether or not they can enter into specific contracts with private individuals. This is a problem that can and should be addressed by the private market and not by additional Federal Government regulation.

    I believe that individuals should take responsible for entering into contracts with other private entities more seriously than they currently do.

    Every time that Google offers a new “free” service, nobody bats an eye. Even though everyone should know that the only way that Google can offer their services for “free” is by selling the information that they can collect from you to their advertisers.

    Now, if Oregon wanted to regulate ISPs, I think they have the ability to do that under the 10th Amendment. I have not studied the Oregon Constitution well enough to know if it has any specific language granting or prohibiting this authority. However, I do not think that they should.

    • SocraticMeathead

      I’d point out that “the internet” is largely a government created and controlled device, not unlike a public utility or the airwaves. So, it does have the power- and perhaps the right- to impose rules for use of the government property.
      ISP providers are often limited to a single provider in some locations. So there are no real choices.
      In todays digital world, connectivity is just as important and vital as a water or power connection. You don’t expect people to dig their own wells or buy their own onsite generators if their water or power companies suddenly said if you still want service, you need to let us post advertisements in our right of ways.
      At the very least, require ISPs to require an opt in. If they did that, and offered discounted pricing, that would be fair IMO

      • thegreatpeon

        The internet was originally called ARPANET and was controlled by the Department of Defense until 1989. It was then replaced by NSFNET which was a public/private partnership. This publicly funded backbone eventually gave way to the primarily private Tier 1 providers. The modern internet (in the US) is almost entirely run on privately owned infrastructure.

        Many people do own their own wells and some are beginning to provide their own power. I live in an area where the publicly provided water is perfectly healthy to drink, but the flavor makes it unpalatable. People regularly purchase their drinking water from the store. The additional complication to the water analogy is water rights, but that’s another topic entirely.

        Electricity and water, are utilities and, as such, have government enforced monopolies in a given area. Internet providers have no such monopoly. The issue is that the cost of infrastructure encourages ISPs to only install new infrastructure where there is a market demand for it. If another ISP already provides service in an area, they would then have to compete for business. Why would they do that if they could, instead, simply build somewhere else or invest in holding what they already have? While this results in a pseudo-monopoly, other options do exist. They simply aren’t as nice as the cable options.

        With the way that wireless technology is advancing, though, this will soon not be a problem.

  • We have updated the article to reflect some new information we received regarding the history of the Joint Resolution.

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