Are Digital Privacy and Net Neutrality Seriously Under Threat in the US?

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

January 10, 2017


When I say that US President-elect Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May are a marriage made in heaven, people look at me like I’m bonkers. However, on the campaign trail Trump made some rather worrying noises about US citizens’ right to digital privacy. He believes that Americans who have nothing to hide should give up their freedom for the greater good. Anybody who feels differently would instantly be branded unpatriotic, if Trump had his way.

In the UK, where the new Prime Minister used to be the longest-standing Home Secretary ever, things are remarkably similar. In November 2016, the UK passed the hugely invasive Investigatory Powers Bill. May worked hard to pass that law (known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’) in her position as Home Secretary. It is a piece of legislation that fits hand-in-hand with the views of Donald Trump.


Digital Privacy Under Trump

On the campaign trail, Trump was asked where he stood on the question of the NSA’s (past) bulk telephone data collection. He replied, “I err on the side of security.” The comment implies that Trump will likely support reinstating the Patriot Act and the NSA’s bulk collection program. Could this signal a coming Snooper’s Charter for the US?

When asked about Apple’s failure to comply in the San Bernardino shooting case (a decision that the cybersecurity community applauds), Trump said that, “the public should boycott the company until it complies.”

These are snapshots of what has been described by raw story as the mind of a “vindictive sociopath.” It certainly makes one tremble, because Trump will have at his disposal the world’s most powerful surveillance agencies.

More to the Story than Meets the Eye?

Current US media rhetoric includes Fox’s Tucker Carlson arguing with high profile senators about why they think it was wrong that Hillary Clinton was hacked. The reporter disagrees with them. His stance is that the US public were lucky to see vital information before they voted. What I can’t help wondering, however, is whether this plays into a more devious and frightening long-term US plan. Hear me out…

Let’s agree that it was right to hack Clinton (one of the most important women in the US). Shouldn’t we therefore also agree that all US citizens should be willing to give up their digital freedom? If it was right that Clinton was hacked for the greater good, then surely if Trump says All US citizens should be ok with being hacked,” they will have to agree?


Does Money Trump Freedom in a Great America?

Trump is promising to make the US great again. The problem is that (if you take a look at his books) his opinions haven’t changed since the 1980s. Trump is a raging capitalist. He strongly believes that he should do anything and everything to make the US more money. If US corporations make more money, then Trump will be doing his job as president perfectly, in his opinion.

Of course, Ford agreeing not to export its new factory to Mexico and build it in Michigan is good news. A Japanese mogul promising to invest 50 billion in the US tech sector is also a winner. It is no wonder that Trump supporters feel pretty good when these deals are announced. “We did the right thing,” they must be thinking.

What about the economic policies, however, that Trump will support despite the fact that they are bad for citizens generally? As long as they make US firms more money (and improve things for shareholders) Trump is likely to steam ahead. That should worry people. Not every idea that makes a US firm more money is necessarily a good one!

Net Neutrality Under Threat

Yesterday, Republican Marsha Blackburn became the new chairperson of a Congressional telecommunications subcommittee. She has in the past attempted to end net neutrality, in order to allow broadband providers to impose limits. In 2015, she filed the “Internet Freedom Act” to try and overturn the new-at-the-time Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules.


Blackburn feels that the FCC’s network neutrality rules unfairly dictate what broadband providers can charge. Why should everyone get the same level of service and price, when the company could throttle people’s access for varying costs, and more profit?

‘No’ to Local Broadband

In 20 states around America, Blackburn worked hard to guard laws that stop cities and towns from rolling out their own internet. She claims it was because she “strongly believes in states’ rights.” The FCC disagreed and went forward with a new proposal to improve competition in areas with poor broadband connectivity. Despite the FCC’s attempts to help everyday Americans, Blackburn once more filed a bill to overturn its decision. Although that attempt failed, the FCC eventually lost in court.

Upon losing last August, Tom Wheeler, head of the FCC made the following comment:

“The FCC’s mandate is to make sure that Americans have access to the best possible broadband. We will consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers to broadband deployment wherever they exist so that all Americans can have access to 21st Century communications.”


Republican Majority

Sadly, however, when Trump is inaugurated as President on 20 January 2017, the FCC majority will move to the Republicans. Thus Marsha Blackburn will have the FCC’s full backing as chairperson of the Congressional telecommunications subcommittee. In addition, last week it was reported that Trump asked Rupert Murdoch for advice on who to select as head of the FCC. This seems rather ominous, especially considering that Murdoch owns the Fox network – the same network that currently has Tucker Carlson strongly supporting the DNC and Podesta hacks that handed Trump the presidency.

With money to be made from throttling the internet, one can’t help but worry about the US’ connectivity. Net neutrality is important, as is digital privacy. However, under Trump (just like under Theresa May in the UK) these things are in grave danger. Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, has gone on the record to express his distrust of the forthcoming administration. He believes that under Trump, “the FCC will be a lot more focused on getting government out of the way.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, agrees. He believes that under Trump Americans could see, “higher cable and internet bills, worse customer service and fewer choices.” Hardly a heart-warming prospect.

Opinions are the writer’s own.

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