As the internet inexorably evolves, the issue of online privacy is becoming ever more controversial. Legislation recently passed by the US government could seriously jeopardise its citizen’s rights to online privacy.
Senate Joint Resolution 34 is a bill designed to repeal privacy measures taken during the Obama administration. The bill effectively gives Internet Service Providers unfettered control to sell the private information of their customers to whomever they wish. The bill was passed on 28th March with a tight vote of 205–215; the controversial defection of 15 Republicans contributed to the vote being so close. By 3rd April, President Trump had signed off on the bill.
As prior privacy rules only applied to ISPs and not tech companies like Amazon and Google, politicians in favour of the bill argued that the repeal would level the playing field for online businesses. As a result, rather than trying to extent privacy laws to cover all internet businesses, they’ve scrapped them to cover none. One representative argued that “nobody’s got to use the internet.”
The trouble seems to be that people really do need to use the internet today — 83% of Americans polled opposed the bill. Maintaining a positive online reputation can be essential for businesses to grow in sales, and can even help people impress employers to secure jobs. Not being able to control what personal information about you is available online could have a serious impact on your online reputation. Therefore, unregulated online companies could have far reaching consequences.
Currently, Bill 34 only affects ISPs in the US. UK ISPs currently have to follow the 1998 Data Protection Act that ensures ISPs are responsible with personal information. In 2018, the EU is introducing further Data Protection Regulations to provide European internet users with even more rights to control their information. The EU regulations are also going some way towards enshrining the ‘right to be forgotten’ that allows users more control over information published about them.
For now at least, it would seem that the eradication of online privacy laws in the USA won’t directly impact internet users in the UK. However, if US ISPs are able to profit from deregulation, it could set a worrying precedent. Although the UK government is currently planning to conform to EU Data Protection Regulations, the imminent prospect of Brexit has left many businesses in doubt.