FCC, ISPs, and You

March 24, 2017

I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon, between work and homework. Since I’ve been writing a blog these past few months I’ve tried to keep content coming at a pace of around once every 2-3 weeks. This article comes a little bit early due to recent events.

Yesterday, Thursday the 23rd, the Senate of the United States of America voted in favor of a resolution to dissolve FCC Internet privacy rules put in place during the Obama administration. By a margin of 50-48, the Senate chose to sell out the privacy of the American people to big name telecommunications companies. I’d like to emphasize that point, because it is not hyperbole. Some may feel the public outcry of this has to do with partisanship; it does not. A group of Republicans, led by Senator Jeff Flake and including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and others supported the notion that Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other ISPs should have the right to sell the private browsing information of their customers, without the permission of said customers.

Should this resolution be passed, these telecom companies will mine your personal data and sell it to the highest bidder. What websites you’re visiting, who you’re talking to, what hobbies you have, it’s all in your search history. It’s too evil to be taken seriously, but it passed. There is no defense of this action that is reasonable. Flake and his cohorts are clearly in the pocket of these big telecom companies. It makes me furious to know that they think they can defend these actions as “pro-consumer”. Flake told Wired last month, “The [FCC’s privacy order] is unnecessary, confusing, and adds yet another innovation-stifling regulation to the Internet”. This is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

You deserve the right to browse the Internet without someone looking over your shoulder. The United Nations passed a resolution that identifies the Internet as a basic human right. The Internet is the modern platform for banking, communication, entertainment, activism, and so much more. Without it, you are reset to the stone ages.

The resolution that was approved by the Senate now needs to be upheld by the House and the President before it can become a legitimate ruling. Should this be the case, companies will now have free range on your personal data and you have no options to stop them.

You can argue that a VPN could stop this, but that’s not realistic. Any paid VPN service could also be watching what you’re doing and sell that information just as easily as an ISP. You could try to use Streisand or OpenVPN to create your own but you have to connect to the Internet somewhere. You could hope that Amazon AWS or DigitalOcean wouldn’t log your traffic but you’d have no way of truly knowing.

You can argue that you’ve nothing to hide but that’s foolish. Based on the information released by the Snowden incident, we know that the NSA has taken steps to track people who even look at anonymity systems. If you even so much as read an article on Tor or on VPN services, your IP address has very likely been added to a database using the XKeyscore system. For even looking into them you can be considered an “extremist” (and that IS a quote). How long before you are put on a list because you dislike the President?

Not to mention, I highly doubt these systems will be secure. I’m patiently awaiting the day someone releases a massive SQL file in which you can lookup every website someone has been to. Even then, I doubt there will be much public outcry over this.

I’m a simple student. I study Computer Science. I work in Cyber security. I write code. For all of these things, I’m amazed at the contempt the US government has for them. We’re living in an age where the head of the FBI can demand that Apple develops software to break into a phone without understanding what that entails. We’re living in an age where the President of the United States can be proudly ignorant of basic technology (see “President Android Phone”, “President talking about ‘Cyber’”, “President endorsing Russian Hacking”).

What does this all mean? Contact your representatives. Don’t email them (most of them don’t know how to operate a computer). Don’t send them a letter (straight to the shredder). Call them. Meet with them in person. Express to them how ridiculous, dangerous, and ignorant this resolution is. Support the EFF and ACLU.

I don’t know what the future will hold. Perhaps the resolution will be stopped in the House, I hope that’s the case. If it passes, I’m not sure what will happen to the state of the Internet.