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Congress gets a lesson on the importance of privacy


For a group of people who presumably understand the importance of messaging, this Congress appears to be clueless about how technology impacts our everyday lives and how constituents interpret any action to limit their rights.  

Privacy advocates and the public at large have been up in arms about the rapid passage of a ISP snooping bill that eliminates consumer privacy protections online, and allows ISPs to collect and share consumer data without explicit consent. Although this bill enjoyed unusual ease in moving through both Houses of Congress, and gaining a signature from the President, a recent poll from CIVIS Analytics shows that more than 83 percent opposed the bill, while only 6 percent supported passage. It is mind-boggling that the option for public debate on this issue was completely ignored.  

{mosads}It was only after President Donald Trump signed the bill into law, and a large public uproar broke out, that we see any justification or even reasoning behind the action.

This “insight,” coming in the form of an op-ed by the chairmen of the FCC and FTC respectively, was weak at best. But my focus here is not on their response. Rather it’s on what we can gather from this action and the long-term impact it will have on the privacy debate at large.  

While the impact of the bill has been overstated by privacy advocates, the message from this Congress is clear – Washington politicians are not concerned about our privacy. The speed of the bill’s passage tells us everything we need to know about this Congress and its commitment to protecting the large telecommunications providers. However it doesn’t let your Democratic lawmakers off the hook, either. They (successfully) feigned disappointment in the measure’s passage, when in reality they had ample opportunity to enact meaningful privacy policy during any of the eight years President Barack Obama was in office. Democrats have simply been better at creating the illusion of being privacy advocates than Republicans.  

The fearful response from consumers and privacy advocates speaks volumes about the political disconnect. Congress’ poor decisions have exposed the true amount of fear Americans hold against their own government. We have personally seen tangible evidence of this fear as interest in Golden Frog’s VPN service, VyprVPN, has seen a 72 percent increase in website traffic since the Senate first considered the bill two weeks ago, while connections have increased 20 percent in the United States alone. In the past the we have experienced massive upswings in VyprVPN interest due to government action in only one other country – China – home of the Great Firewall.

I would argue that if either side took privacy seriously, they would find a loyal constituency that is constantly feeling abandoned and increasingly less involved politically because of the aforementioned lip service. The backlash after this bill’s passage clearly illustrates that consumers do care about privacy and want a say, and that this sentiment spans across party lines.

Despite the disappointing outcome regarding the FCC’s effort to better protect online privacy, there are new contests on the horizon for which we must prepare. Perhaps the biggest item we need to prepare for is the potential rewriting, or outright elimination, of net neutrality rules as they exist today. While some aspects of net neutrality rules are positive (they are, in fact, better than nothing) they are inferior to what we at Golden Frog call Open Internet, where only the physical line to the home is regulated and many independent ISPs provide open access over that regulated line so we can build a truly competitive ISP marketplace. Citizens can “vote with their wallet” and choose the winners and losers, particularly the ISPs that respect their privacy. An Open Internet put the citizens in control and prevents their internet access and privacy from being thrashed about in the continually changing political winds. Internet access has become a fundamental requirement of modern life, so we need to let citizens choose who delivers this critical service over monopoly bottleneck facilities.

Current Net Neutrality regulations presume that a mythical, “all seeing regulator” will be able to police the monopoly ISPs. But, as we have seen over the past 20 years and most recently with the ISP snooping bill, the telcos and cable monopolists can easily influence Congress and capture the regulators. The ISP snooping bill was just the fruit of the poisonous tree of the ISP duopoly so we need to start thinking and talking about a truly Open Internet.

Privacy advocates should feel emboldened in the wake of this latest effort, insomuch as they have realized how much of the public (whom often appears apathetic) cares about their privacy. Instead of continuing to beat a dead horse and complaining about ISP snooping, we need to spend this presumably small window of public engagement and concern to regroup for the new fights ahead. 

Sunday has been president of Golden Frog since its founding in 2009, and guides the company’s global strategy and vision. The company’s premiere product isVyprVPN, which produces the fastest VPN in the world, and is largely considered one of the top VPNs in the market. Golden Frog is incorporated in Switzerland, but headquartered in Austin, Texas. Sunday is committed to delivering a secure and open Internet experience to people around the world.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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