After shameful Congress sell-out, Minnesota takes the lead on internet privacy

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Congress wants to let people sell your information. Minnesota might've just blocked that before it started. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Congressional Republicans voted Tuesday to allow Internet providers like Comcast, At&T, and Verizon to sell your private web surfing histories, GPS locations, and app usage without your consent.

Those voting in favor include all three of Minnesota's Republican representatives -- GOP U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen -- who joined 212 of their colleagues to pass the bill. Republicans cast all 215 votes in favor of the bill, though 15 GOP members broke ranks to vote against it. 

Advertisers want your information because it lets them sell you what your online behavior says you’re into: the DSLR camera you're Googling; the ring you were hoping would still be a surprise; medication for the rash you were hoping was a secret.

That Republican vote intends to halt late Obama-era Federal Communications Commission privacy protections, which would require the Internet providers to get your permission before amassing your information. Those rules were passed in October 2016, and were slated to go into effect later this year.

So yes, your Internet provider has been tracking your movements this whole time with things like supercookies, which even the tech-savviest among us cannot easily shake off. The Obama rules would have stopped them.

Now those rules are moot, as President Donald Trump prepares to sign this legislation. (The U.S. Senate had already passed the bill last week, on a 50-48 party line vote, with DFL U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar voting against.)

As more and more people shift their personal lives, entertainment, healthcare and financial business online, Internet providers’ dealings with advertisers are growing ever more lucrative. You don't get a slice of the pie, obviously -- you, and your bank acccount, are the pie -- but the politicians who voted to sell your data do.

Telecommunication companies’ donations to congressional candidates in the last election cycle range from thousands of dollars to six figures' worth of support.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Tom Emmer received $18,500; Jason Lewis $10,500, and Erik Paulsen $50,500.

Since the vote, individual angry people such as the creator of Cards Against Humanity and this mobile software designer from Tennessee have threatened to buy up the Internet browsing information of the lawmakers who sold out everybody else.

It’s an interesting revenge plot. Does Minnesota really want to know what Emmer, Lewis, and Paulsen do on their personal phones? Hopefully not. But spying on their private lives hadn't occured to anyone until Congress sold us out.

Thankfully, Minnesota’s state legislators appear more clear-headed than our Republican representatives in Congress. The House and the Senate – which both have Republican majorities –  quickly tacked on amendments to their economic growth budgets this week that would prevent Internet providers that contract with the state from mining Minnesotans’ data.

If those amendments survive a conference committee and get signed into law -- when it came up in the Senate Wednesday night, the privacy protection measure passed 66 votes to 1 -- Minnesota could sue Internet providers that break our new state law.

In the meantime, best get yourself a virtual private network (VPN)


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