Net (Profit) Neutrality

As has been the trend since the advent of the Trump administration in January, we’ve had an eventful week in American politics. Most notable, of course, was the failure of the American Healthcare Act, which resulted in the continued health coverage of 24 million Americans. However, with the secured protection of our health many may not have noticed that we are on our way to potentially losing some of the privacy benefits the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission worked to protect via the Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal.

The Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal established online privacy rules that essentially ensured that companies could only receive information about consumer browsing given permission from the user. Now that Ajit Pai (a former lawyer for Verizon) is in control of the FCC he’s bent on taking away these protections in favor of the companies who could benefit from knowing consumer browsing habits. With this information, these companies could then monitor people’s online activities as well as manipulate the content that these people will see. On Thursday, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that claims that since the Internet is technically considered a utility like electricity, the government has a right to collect information such as individual search history and then sell it to the company willing to pay the most for the information.

All of this should be pretty concerning to just about everyone who uses the Internet. In order to increase public awareness that the loss of this privacy is even at stake Private Internet Access, a company that provides virtual private networks bought out an entire page in the New York Times:0kc4jJDVgLGbOI0TSY8hwQfcCPoY6ADX-MtA2vilf2s

What is especially important to note here is that only members of the Republican Party are supporting this bill. Granted this isn’t terribly surprising since it puts more power into the hands of businesses, but it does seem surprising in the sense that it guarantees a “big government” presence in the homes of the American people. However, given the amount of money that Internet Service Providers have invested towards getting rid of Internet privacy restrictions it makes a bit more sense.2017_03_20-ISPs-Senators-table.r43799959460

Critics of this bill argue that it violates the Fourth Amendment which protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and can only be violated given “probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” But here’s where it gets even trickier. Some claim that the Internet is within the public domain and so even though we may access it within the privacy of our own home the Fourth Amendment doesn’t really apply here. It’s a concept we discussed a bit more towards the beginning of the semester especially in respect to the Lawrence v. Texas case. How far can we stretch the Fourth Amendment? Is the Internet too broad and accessible to be considered someone’s private property? Do we value capitalist gain over consumer rights and privacy? I like to think that we should put the privacy and protection of the American people above potential profit, but there are 50 senators who don’t seem to share that mentality.


Senate Roll Call

Trump’s FCC Pick Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules 

Privacy News Online March 23 

Privacy News Online October 2016


Fourth Amendment 

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9 Responses to Net (Profit) Neutrality

  1. morgandick says:

    Perhaps I am suffering from senioritis or am just too entrenched in the middle of thesis-land but I had no idea the extent of this issue. Thanks for keeping me up to date with this situation. Privacy rights are something that invokes not only a lot of confusion, but a ton of emotion. As we move towards a more technologically dependent society clearer laws and regulations must be made. Although the specific bill you are referring you is only referring to American Internet usage – technology is something that is not unique to the U.S. The globalist in me says we need to hold another Geneva-style convention with representatives from the ICC and the ICJ. Technology transcends boarders and as difficult as it may be there needs to be, at minimum, basic guidelines to what is and what isn’t private. I really liked how you brought in the issue with the Fourth Amendment. In my eyes, this is a very strong argument and has really won me over after reading the bill. Thanks for the post Bronte!

  2. edander4 says:

    There are many grey areas regarding law and the internet. Since it is such a new creation, it might be a while before strict legislation is passed to regulate it. I enjoyed reading your blog post. The part that stuck out to me the most was when you mentioned that companies could manipulate the content you see on websites in order to ultimately gain profit. In my mind, this means that based on what you have searched recently, the companies can then advertise products to you. This is something that already occurs. While not on a large scale, many Amazon ads pop up on my browser based on my recent searches (kind of little spooky).
    In scenarios like this, I can’t help but think of the small businesses that are being shut out by giant corporations. Small businesses rely on open internet to get their names and products out onto the market. If the content of your searches is being sold to the highest bidder, then how will small businesses every get off the ground? In this day and age, if a business does not have a functioning website, then they may not survive for very long. That being said, small business may not survive at all if corporations are shutting out their ads and products. Net neutrality is a very interesting issue and I am curious to see what will happen in the future.

  3. Ryan Wadding says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have been keeping up with this issue but I appreciate your coverage anyway. What particularly concerns me the most (not that this is not teeming with issues) is that these ISPs will hypothetically have the power to manipulate what a user sees. And as you pointed out it is particularity ironic that the Republican senate majority has thrown their full support behind this given that they claim to want government out of our lives. What particularly interests me about this issue is what you mentioned in the last paragraph. I know it is complicated, but I hope the fourth amendment prevails. I wonder how the “effects” line of the fourth amendment could be applied to the internet. There is an article from the Yale Law Journal that I will link below that deals with the “effects” line of the fourth amendment. Basically, the author argues that “effects” should be applied to what is deemed personal property that can be accessed in the public space. If it can be determined that our access and our internet history is personal property and the author is correct, then in my very basic conclusion I think the fourth amendment could indeed shield us from this violation of protections that we should have. Great post. Cheers!

    Link to article in the Yale Law Journal:

  4. bealpeyton says:

    First off, great post!
    To me, this is the type of issue that people are ostensibly apathetic towards when, instead, they should be fervently passionate about. The internet is often viewed as the “wild west” in terms of regulation, but there have always been clear, obvious ways in which users have been protected. Now, with Republican control over all of government, even the most basic protections safeguards seem to be at risk. There is one positive that this bill will engender, I think: the public may become more aware of how their privacy is being violated. Additionally, it is likely that many questions will be asked and debates will be had about this subject. Does the right to privacy apply on the internet? Does that same right protect your search history or, frankly, anything else from private entities? Aside from the fact that I will be shocked if there is not a flurry of lawsuits attacking the constitutionality of the bill, I think it will be interesting to see how the enactment of this legislation may shape the landscape of laws governing the internet for decades to come. Lastly, as a shameless plug, your last chart regarding campaign donations is actually why private, largely corporate money needs to be taken out of politics.

  5. amsturdam says:

    First off just wanted to say I loved the images used in this post. I had seen these previously on social media and thought it was awesome to see them on here as well. As far as the proposed law goes I am not a fan. The idea of companies being able to monitor what we see and potentially controlling it leaves me with an uneasy feeling. I think a lot of this gets back to how new the internet is to the law. It seems like such a simple thing to us and we forget that only a few decades ago it simply didn’t exist. It did surprise me that many Republican Senators were supporting this as I believe this would go against a lot of some of the party’s beliefs. I think that the proposal interferes with privacy and can potentially push at the fourth amendment. I like to think that the party supports individual rights and to me this is a step in the wrong direction. When it comes to the amount of money in politics I would say that that is one of the biggest problems we have in this country. When votes on proposal are being bought by corporate interest a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

    • azwoodland says:

      Bouncing off of your point, I agree that it seems counterintuitive that a large number of Republican Senators (and Representatives too) were for this bill. Why would the party of individualism support the selling of personal information? I think it’s important to understand their argument because the premise seemed too absurd to me. Here is the defense I found from the Senator who introduced it (surprise, none other than our Senator Jeff Flake): “The FCC’s midnight regulation has the potential to limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem. Passing my resolution is the first step toward restoring a consumer-friendly approach to Internet privacy regulation that empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared. It will not change or lessen existing consumer privacy protections” (Flake, 2017).

      It seems as if Senator Flake and the forty-nine other Senators who voted for the bill believe that the Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal is an “economically harmful regulation” (Flake, 2017). This regulation imposes a burden upon companies who go to great lengths to ensure our security on the internet, and by eliminating the regulation, the Senators are paving the way for further innovation and growth. I mean, it sort of sounds good on paper. But in practice? We all know there isn’t much consumer choice when it comes to the internet. For example, when I moved into my apartment complex I was told I had to have Cox internet because they were the only ISP which covered my area. The same goes for a large portion of the country – Google “Comcast Customer Service Horror Stories” if you need a laugh.

      To me, it seems that the passage of this bill is a thinly veiled way for Republicans to 1.) pad their pockets while 2.) repealing an Obama-era regulation (which hadn’t even gone into effect) and 3.) appealing to the notion of small government. I don’t buy it. But who knows, maybe it’s time for me to go off the grid?

      Flake, J. (2017). Senate Passes Flake’s Repeal of FCC Midnight Broadband Regulation – Press Releases – United States Senator Jeff Flake. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

      • bpclass17 says:

        I know many Americans share your perspective on these internet freedom issues. I’m still skeptical of the conventional wisdom that ‘corporations are evil’ and ‘Republicans are corrupt’. Most Republican lawmakers share longstanding views on market freedom and regulatory reform that encourage economic growth.

        I think both Republicans and Democrats can get behind a shared vision for a robust technology economy. Innovation and competition in this sector can power tremendous growth and opportunity. But providing data service, wired or wireless, remains one of the most infrastructure-intensive businesses out there. Entering this market is difficult enough without a ‘big government’ regulatory regime hell-bent on controlling the business model.

        Rather than picking winners or losers, or trying to ‘nationalize’ data providers, government must get out of the way and let out technology companies do what they do best: innovate.

  6. mspivey97 says:

    Excellent work! I’m really concerned about how we’re going to apply (or choose not to apply) the Fourth Amendment to the internet and digital information. While I understand why some would argue that the internet is in the public domain, it also appears inevitable that more and more of our property is going to be digital property, or at least stored in the cloud via the internet. If the courts decide that the internet deserves very little Fourth Amendment protection, our privacy rights will be worth less and less. Any argument that one can simply choose not to use internet services seems hollow. You simply can’t fully participate in our modern society without using Google or setting up an email account, both of which allow your personal data to be sold. Hopefully as more office-holders who have relied on the internet for most of their lives enter legislatures, we will see fewer laws like the one you discussed. It seems clear that very few college students believe that the internet should be regulated as a utility such as electricity. Ultimately, though, I believe we will need the courts to step in and recognize the internet as a domain that should receive substantial Fourth Amendment protections.

  7. dneu1 says:

    This post was really informative about all the current possible changes to net neutrality and the way we regulate the internet. The other thing I want to add is that this specific issue shows just how influential money can be in politics. I really really liked the graph based on the center for responsive politics data showing this. So while a lot of other comments focused on the fourth amendment I wanted to look more at what this issue says about our government/representation/regulations/the legal system as a whole. And sadly, what this issue seems to be saying is that a very small number of corporate interests can win out against what seems to be the interests and opinion of every private individual. I’m not saying every person I know supports net neutrality, but I’ve never heard an individual with knowledge of the issues at hand speak out against it. So again, to me it just seems amazing that we (voters, people, corporations, politicians) have created a system in which incentives for politicians to collect donations outweigh their incentives to represent their constituents. This worries me not only for net neutrality, but for a lot of other issues, because I have personal belief that your worth/ wealth as an individual company should have a minimal effect on the quality of your representation.

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