Guest column: No, Sen. Heller did not vote to sell your internet history
May 12, 2017
It looks like liberals are in the business of using billboards to promote their delusions. They have hijacked the truth and put it on Interstate 580 for everyone to see with a billboard making the ridiculous claim that Sen. Dean Heller voted to allow companies to purchase your internet browsing history.
This claim is a far cry from the truth. All the Republican-controlled Congress did is restore the rule of law by repealing the political favoritism of the Obama administration's regulatory overreach. Your privacy is still intact and the liberals know it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has protected internet users from violations of their personal privacy for close to 20 years. During this time, consumers have embraced the FTC model and the internet has grown well beyond our wildest expectations, moving from a novelty where you could talk to others in an online chatroom to an integral part of our lives. Thanks to the free market, companies now compete for your services, speed has increased exponentially, and access is widespread and growing.
Despite this market success, or perhaps because of it, the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) aggressively promoted an effort to transform the internet into a government controlled entity.
To further this agenda in the final months of the Obama presidency, the FCC passed a so-called "privacy" measure over the objections of the FTC. This rule would have created a duplicative set of rules in conflict with existing privacy regulations. This would have meant consumers had different protections on different parts of the internet. The two-tiered system would have opened unsuspecting consumers to a myriad of cyberattacks.
Congress rightfully decided that two sets of rules was not only wrong, but also threatened the future of consumers' privacy by handing out exemptions to favored special interest groups. The rule only applied to broadband providers, leaving data collectors like Google and Facebook untouched. That's why Congress rejected the FCC rules, an act that created an avalanche of inaccurate scare tactics declaring your privacy was now for sale.
Liberal groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in a fruitless attempt to purchase the browsing histories of members of Congress, which was and remains illegal. As Jules Polonetsky, the head of the Future of Privacy Forum, said, "In no conceivable way is it legal … to sell the individual browser history of a person." The inability of these groups to purchase the data proves that every claim they are making is false. Yet, they forge ahead claiming that the recent actions by Congress allows privacy violations like this to occur.
Instead of refunding the money and admitting they were wrong, which would have been the honorable thing to do, these groups pivoted and are now purchasing billboards alleging that members of Congress, including Nevada Sen. Heller, voted to allow your web history to be sold! They know it is a falsehood, but still allege in big bold letters that Mr. Heller "voted to let them [Internet Service Providers] sell your web history without your permission."
The ironic thing is that what these groups are advocating for is even worse. Housing your personal information in a government agency would undoubtedly threaten your security, not foster it. There is still the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and this information housing looks unconstitutional to this observer.
Heller did the right thing by standing up to those seeking to transform the internet into a government-run monopoly. That would have decimated competition, innovation, progress and ultimately privacy. Thanks to Heller's vote, the FTC and FCC have agreed to work together to give consumers one set of rules for all of the internet, something that would have never happened without the actions of this Congress.
If you are driving down the road and happen to see this particular billboard, you have been warned — the information on it is false, and sadly, its sponsors know it. In today's world, however, we should not expect anything less from a left wing that is slowly losing touch with reality.
James Smack is the former Republican National Committeeman for Nevada.