2016 was a crucial year was in terms of shifting dynamics. We saw a changing of the guard (although in a very muted form) in South Africa where the ANC lost ground to opposition parties in local government elections. We saw the dramatic result of a surprise vote to leave the European Union (EU) where Britons made their voices heard. Before Theresa May signed Article 50, there was always a chance that it would be nothing but a bad dream. In 2016 was the election of Donald Trump as the US’ 45

We saw a changing of the guard in South Africa where the ANC lost ground to opposition parties in local government elections. We saw the dramatic result of a surprise vote to leave the European Union (EU) where Britons made their voices heard. In 2016 was the election of Donald Trump as the US’ 45th President.

Establishing context

The Brexit issue and the election of Trump came off the back of a concerted campaign to get the public to focus on looking after their own interests before others. This involved a dangerous rhetoric which aimed some very powerful speech at foreigners and immigration issues.

Trump, and the like of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, managed to manipulate public opinion into thinking that current immigration levels are bad and that the reason that unemployment is an issue in those countries is because of an open border policy in the UK and a sometimes porous border policy in the US.

This blog post is not to argue political ideologies, but am merely pointing out how one decision can create a battle ground where the political ideology of a nation can be fought.

A new battle ground

Technology is increasingly influencing, and changing, our lives. A recent policy decision by the US threatens to take this just a step further. The recent decision by the US Senate to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to sell internet browsing history to the highest bidder will create a new battle ground.

An article on arstechnica.com pointed out that the rules were approved in October 2016 by the Federal Communications Commission’s then-Democratic leadership, but are opposed by the FCC’s new Republican majority and Republicans in Congress. The Senate today used its power under the Congressional Review Act to ensure that the FCC rulemaking “shall have no force or effect” and to prevent the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future.

The House would need to vote on the measure before the privacy rules are officially eliminated. President Trump could also preserve the privacy rules by issuing a veto. If the House and Trump agree with the Senate’s action, ISPs won’t have to seek customer approval before sharing their browsing histories and other private information with advertisers.

The Senate vote was 50-48, with lawmakers voting entirely along party lines.

“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said after the vote.

How it would affect you

It would be surprising to know if any of the politicians who voted in favour of this are actually aware of the effects that this will have on not only their lives, but on the lives of the public.

An article on washingtonpost.com explored this in a little bit more detail.

The articled pointed out that the legislation would make it easier for ISPs, such as AT&T and Verizon, to collect and sell information such as your web browsing history and app usage. Would this help the US government dig up dirt on people? How can people now protect their privacy?

Firstly, let’s focus on a major issue. The article indicated that the measure doesn’t give the government any more powers to gather information on people than it already had. However, with ISPs getting into the data-mining business, it is another place government officials could theoretically go to find information about people of interest. It could also provide the Government with another way to chase down and prosecute tax dodgers.

This is all very well, and we can appreciate the use of the internet to catch a sex offender or a company siphoning off billions into an international tax haven. But the effects will be far more reaching.

Think back to July 2015 when we first heard about the Ashley Madison hack, we all thought that this would be the end of marriages and families on a large scale. And when the names of the users were released in August 2015, this was realised.

What about a businessman who is living with cancer or maybe even AIDS and wants to keep this from his children because he wants them to see him as he was when they were growing up, a pillar of strength in the family. Now all of a sudden browsing information on medical treatments for diseases are leaked and the family finds out. People have a right to privacy, whether they are surfing pornography or information on a medical disease.

**Is integrity dead? **

ISPs have come out and said that they are not in the business of selling off this information, and that they are bound by a company established code of ethics that prevents them from selling this information, but it also an opportunity to prove whether integrity is in fact dead.

Yes, ISPs are bound by internal codes of ethics and laws to not sell this type of information. But how easy would it be to change this? They would have to hold an extraordinary meeting and possibly go a legal route to change this.  With the legalisation of the selling of browsing data, which Judge would not allow an ISP to change their laws?

The ISPs would then have to communicate this to the public; how many of us actually read disclaimers on websites? How many of us read the T&Cs of a website before we tick the box that we accept them? If ISPs do change their laws thereby allowing them to sell this information to the highest bidder…the question becomes: is client privacy worth more than $5 million…$50 million…$100 million?

As a human being you have certain rights, when someone starts to infringe on those rights, there will be repercussions. Privacy is a right that is intrinsic to all of us. How many of us wouldn’t fight to have privacy protected? How many Americans will fight in the future when they discover that their privacy has been breached?