By the time this copy gets printed or put on our website, the story of how Congress passed a bill allowing internet service providers the ability to sell personal information will be wretchedly old news. Almost as soon as the House approved it over a week ago, the news circulated around the Internet at lightspeed. When we read the headlines, we didn’t think twice about how they were delivered to our laptops or iPhones. We consumed the information and then we moved on.
We don’t think about the Internet. The service is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we forget that it hasn’t been around forever. We forget that there are still things we need to decide regarding how we use it and how we regulate it.
Thriving in our society requires internet access. It’s arguably a necessity for access to education, employment and healthcare. And yet, legislatively, we still see the Internet as a consumer service. We still see Internet users as choosing to opt in to a contract with their provider, not members of a society that leaves them with little choice in the matter.
This is how Congress got away with signing away our right to digital privacy—by painting it as the rights of businesses to do with as they wish the information that their customers freely gave to them. And yet, what gives them the right to sell our personal information?
We belittle the importance and value of our personal information. We don’t mind if anyone takes a peek at our browser history because we haven’t done anything wrong.
But what’s right and wrong changes directions as swiftly as the wind. Is researching symptoms of pregnancy and Planned Parenthood clinic locations wrong? What about Islam or sanctuary cities or Black Lives Matter? Congress has decided that though we have a right to our own beliefs and ideas, we do not have the right to be protected from corporations using these belief and ideas to target us.
There’s no reason for internet service agencies to collect this kind of information. And there is certainly no reason for them to be able to sell it to whomever they choose. This conversation is not driven by a need for safety, but by a desire to capitalize on an almost universally-used service. We are not going to paint a picture of a dystopian future with Big Brother watching your every move, but we can’t be passive in how we let our government define our rights. We are at a critical point in the evolution of the digital age and it’s important that we see it that way.