With the fate of internet privacy now resting in the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump, Americans are increasingly outraged over what many say is a clear gift to the deep-pocketed telecommunications industry.
From plans to erect billboards exposing just how much the industry has donated to Republicans who voted to strip protections to fundraising campaigns to purchase and expose those lawmakers' personal internet data, advocacy groups and the public at large are finding creative ways to channel their fury over recent House and Senate votes to abolish the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) broadband privacy rule that forbade Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from tracking or selling user data without consent.
"It's hard to overstate what a blow to individual privacy this is," Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote Wednesday. Though he notes it is "hardly rare for the U.S. Congress to enact measures gutting online privacy," it is often done under the guise of 'keeping Americans safe.' He continued:
But what distinguishes this latest vote is that this pretext is unavailable. Nobody can claim with a straight face that allowing AT&T and Comcast to sell their users' browser histories has any relationship to national security. Indeed, there's no minimally persuasive rationale that can be concocted for this vote. It manifestly has only one purpose: maximizing the commercial interests of these telecom giants at the expense of ordinary citizens. It's so blatant here that it cannot even be disguised.
Comedian Stephen Colbert likewise pointed out this fact during Wednesday's "Late Show," saying: "I guarantee you, there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America, who asked for this... No one. No one in America stood up at a town hall said, 'Sir, I demand you let somebody else make money off my shameful desires!'"
"The only thing less popular would be if they passed a bill allowing traffic jams to call you during dinner to give you gonorrhea," Colbert added.
Underscoring that point, anonymous internet trolls who espouse racist propaganda and generally support Trump are reportedly also upset over this rule change. "To the chagrin and sometimes utter disbelief of Trump's own Internet hordes," tech writer Dan Van Winkle wrote Wednesday, "we're all out of governmental options—and really, Trump's own FCC chair supports this, so as usual, no one should have been surprised—so it's up to tech and taking things into your own hands."
"In Donald Trump's America, the information isn't stolen by hackers in the dark of night. It is taken with the government's blessing."
—Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Though some advocacy organizations have attempted to appeal to Trump's faux-populism in arguing that he "now has the opportunity to...show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans," as ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani said after Tuesday's House vote, the White House has signaled that the legislation will be signed.
For a candidate who claimed to be so-rich-he-can't-be-bought, this law will be yet another testament to the where Trump's allegiance stands.
Tom Wheeler, who chaired the FCC under former President Barack Obama and oversaw passage of the nearly-defunct protections, published an op-ed in the New York Times on Wednesday further noting that Trump's FCC also recently voted
to stay requirements that internet service providers must take "reasonable measures" to protect confidential information they hold on their customers, such as Social Security numbers and credit card information. This is not a hypothetical risk — in 2015 AT&T was fined $25 million for shoddy practices that allowed employees to steal and sell the private information of 280,000 customers.
"There's a lot of hypocrisy at play here," Wheeler continued. "The man who has raged endlessly at the alleged surveillance of the communications of his aides (and potentially himself) will most likely soon gladly sign a bill that allows unrestrained sale of the personal information of any American using the internet. Apparently, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress value privacy for themselves over the privacy of the Americans who put them in office. What is good business for powerful cable and phone companies is just tough luck for the rest of us."
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producer Denis Moynihan wrote Thursday that it was "absolutely shocking that Donald Trump, in the midst of his accusations that his own privacy was invaded by illegal wiretaps, is signing into law permission to invade, sell, trade and monetize the most private, intimate details of every internet-connected American."
"In Donald Trump's America," they continued, "the information isn't stolen by hackers in the dark of night. It is taken with the government's blessing. Unless people organize and fight back, the promises of the open internet will fade away."