Online privacy in the US has been dealt one of the biggest blows in its history after Congress voted to repeal FCC privacy rules.
Last week the US Senate voted on the same issue to remove privacy protections on consumer’s broadband connections.
However, passing the Senate was only the first hurdle as US politics with its checks and balances system required the issue to pass through Congress too.
Last night Congress voted 215 to 205 to repeal the privacy rules giving big ISPs a victory by the smallest of margins.
What this means
The vote should send shock waves around the US as online privacy just took one of the biggest hits in the history of the internet.
Internet and telephone companies will now have the ability to log and store data on what their users access and do online and sell that data on to other companies to use in who knows what manner of ways.
FCC privacy protections that hadn’t even come into being yet now look increasing dead in the water.
All that stands in the way of this privacy invading practice becoming law is the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
He could, in theory, veto the bill which would stop it from becoming law even after both the Senate and Congress voted in favour of it.
The chances of that happening are slim and according to GovTrack, an organisation that tracks the US Congress, only 0.7 of votes have been vetoed when both the Senate and Congress have the majority of the same party as the President.
With Donald Trump being a republican and the both houses having a republican majority it seems highly unlikely that he will choose to veto the bill.
New powers for big ISPs
Companies such as Google and Facebook already utilise the type of information that will be available but only if a user makes use of one of their services, such as their search engine or social media platform.
Although increasingly difficult in a search and social media dominated market users still have the option to use other services or avoid them altogether.
ISPs have wider reaching eyes because everything a user does passes through their ISP and unlike countries such as the UK that may have 4 or 5 different ISP provider options, US citizens are often locked into just one or two choices in a local area.
Privacy groups are rightly angered at the latest developments but vowed to continue their fight.
The fight must go on
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “EFF will continue the fight to restore our privacy rights on all fronts. We will fight to restore your privacy rights in the courts, in the states, in Washington, D.C., and with technology.”
Alongside the EFF and other privacy groups stands a collection of smaller ISPs who disagree with the latest developments giving some small hope to users who fall inside their catchment area. Unfortunately for the majority, only the large ISPs who will be rubbing their hands in glee at the impending law are available.
David Cox, CEO of privacy company LiquidVPN said, “It is quite a loss for the American consumer. The fact is most Americans don’t even realize what they are about to lose. The news has been dominated by scandal after scandal.”
In similar fashion to how the UK’s privacy invading Investigatory Powers Bill was slipped under the radar, he went on to say, “If you were not paying attention you would have missed this went into law. The worst part is they wrote the bill so that it will be very hard to pass any type of privacy legislation in the future.”
VPN interest rising
Industry groups representing the big communications companies attempted to calm the situation by claiming the vote will not stop broadband companies from respecting user privacy, however, how likely this is now they have free reign to generate millions more dollars in profit will remain to be seen.
There is no timescale for President Trump to approve the new bill but commentators expect this to happen swiftly sounding the death knell for users’ privacy.
US citizens are now left with little choice other than to sign up to a VPN service or use Tor to protect their online privacy.
A VPN is a software or app solution that scrambles all of a users’ internet data in what is called encryption making it impossible for their ISP to see what websites they access or what they do online, essentially rendering any ISP based monitoring for marketing purposes useless.
While US lawmakers will not respect the privacy of their citizens, at the very lease citizens can take their privacy back into their own hands.
VPNCompare recommends VPN providers IPVanish, Overplay and LiquidVPN for US users who want to take back their privacy.