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Privacy and National Security

Much to everyone’s dismay, Donald Trump signed the new internet privacy bill this week. Actually, it would be better to call it the “no privacy” bill. It overrules an Obama regulation that said that your ISP has to get your permission to sell your personal data that they collect.

So, how do you feel about the fact that your ISP can spy on everything you do online — including your web browsing history, emails you send and receive, what apps you use, and your geo location — and sell that information to anyone? Like, they could sell your porn browsing habits to your employer. Or if you log onto a cancer treatment center, notify your health insurance company.

However, turnabout is fair play. One group has started fundraising to buy the internet data for all members of Congress and publish it.

But getting rid of all restraints on companies has even darker implications. Here’s an even scarier example. A Chinese company that is partly owned by the Chinese government is trying to buy MoneyGram, which is a major US financial services company.

Think about that for a second. MoneyGram is very popular with members of the US military for sending money. If you had all the data about their MoneyGrams, would it be very difficult to figure out which people are in financial trouble? Or depending on where they sent the money, maybe susceptible to blackmail?

And that’s the problem. People claim they don’t like government regulations, but sometimes getting rid of them can have disastrous consequences. That’s why I call myself a pragmatist. Life is not simple enough to be an ideologue.

Also published on Medium.



  1. ThatGuy wrote:

    It never ceases to amaze me how the “anti-regulation” crowd that whines about government bureaucrats is just fine handing over all that and more to corporate bureaucrats. At least I have a choice of who to vote for. I can’t say the same about my sole available ISP.

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    Was it possible to filibuster this? What was vote roll call?

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  3. paradoctor wrote:

    If the Chinese buy MoneyGram, then won’t they know where its users are? If that includes members of the military, then that’s a national security issue.

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Ralph wrote:

    This issue came up in our household over breakfast last Sunday and for many of the same infuriating reasons cited here.

    After breakfast, tuned into Michael Smirconish’s show on CNN, which featured an interview with a former head of the FTC (under Obama) where they discussed this bill. Turns out, it’s not as cut and dried as you may think. Not sure I fully grasp all the legalese here, but I’m getting there’s some kind of turf (or congressional) war going on with the FTC and FCC that leaves the issue of privacy currently in limbo, with regulations parsed out between who polices ISPs versus and others that cover search engines, like google and facebook. As if they can’t figure out it’s the issue (privacy), not the particular info collector. Maybe someone smarter than me here can parse it all out better, but what I could best make out is that the status quo is currently still in effect.

    Here’s the 7min interview for those interested:

    What frustrates and angers me, and I suppose the average bear, is that an issue like this, which should be a slam dunk no brainer to a 5th grader, ends up being this knife fight in Congress. I mean, WTactualF!?

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  5. ThatGuy wrote:

    @Hassan: Filibuster was not possible. They used the Congressional Review Act. In essence, this privacy rule was put in place a certain time before Obama’s departure, and the CRA can get rid of those rules more easily if done sooner. Essentially, the Obama administration acted on this too late.

    @Ralph, it is true that “the status quo” is maintained in this instance. We consumers never actually had the protections that the GOP just gave away, we were only due to get them, as I understand it. If it makes you feel any better being exposed because you were never protected from exposure…

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    Hassan, I have missed your input.

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 4:44 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    Ralph, I watched that video (thanks for that) and I have to say that I think that most of those arguments are a smokescreen. For example, the whole argument that asks why ISPs should have privacy rules that websites such as Facebook and Google don’t. First of all, they should both have strong privacy regulations (there’s that word again!). Does that mean we should get rid of privacy rules for ISPs? Of course not.

    Besides, I could make a good argument that ISPs are fundamentally different from websites. As Thatguy points out, many of us have no choice of ISP. Our only choice would be to stop using the internet entirely. It is much easier to stop using Facebook, Google or other sites. Second, ISPs have access to ALL of our information, unless we take extreme measures such as using a VPN for all our online activity (but then, we have to trust our VPN provider). Websites only have access to that information they can glean while we are using their products. Third, many countries (especially in Europe) have very strong privacy regulations that apply to websites. So websites that are used internationally already have to conform to those regulations, since it is difficult for them to know exactly where you are located. ISPs know exactly where you are located, and besides, US ISPs are only subject to US law.

    Again note, I’m not saying that there should be no privacy regulations that apply to Google, Facebook, or others. I would like to see stronger privacy regulations, like they have in Europe (I’ve lived in Europe, and those regulations do make it more difficult for people who build websites there, but they are still a good idea). But throwing out all regulations against ISPs is just insane.

    And do you really think the Republicans will pass privacy regulations that apply to both ISPs and websites?

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink
  8. Wildwood wrote:

    I am almost totally computer illiterate. I know how to turn it on and off so this is all like another language. I do know that for a long time, if I do a search for pooper scoopers in my search engine, then ads for pooper scoopers show up everywhere I go, particularly on FB and in the side bars of my free email service. And they keep showing up, long after I have made my scooper choice and purchased one. I actually have never shopped for, or bought said item, but you get the idea. This is very annoying since once in a great while my 16 year old grandson uses my computer. I don’t want him to encounter ads for items I prefer he not know that I have been looking for.

    Which brings me to a question. I use a Dell and have Windows 8.1 or something like that and my font is gray colored which is very hard for me to see. Is there any way to make the font black? My eye strain is getting severe and annoying. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, remembering my previous comment about my lack of computer skills.

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Sorry, I’m a Mac user, but I am absolutely sure there is an easy way to change your system font.

    Windows Gurus?

    And more germane to this post, Google at least has a way to tell them to not collect your personal information, which would solve your first problem. For example, see

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  10. Squeaky Wheel wrote:

    Actually, it would be better to call it the “Confirmation & Proof of Congressional Prostitution Act”

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  11. Ralph wrote:

    IK – most welcome. I think you hit on at least a partial solution with the VPN option, which you can access via most, if not all anti-virus services, for an nominal fee as part of their subscription (I use Avast, for example). Yet, as you qualified it, there’s still a modicum of trust involved with that as well.

    But we’re creatures of habit, online or off, and ISPs and search engines like Google and Facebook bank on it. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I know doesn’t track my search history, store personal info, or follow me around with annoying ads reflecting my search history, and yet I reflexively hit the google link I put on my bookmarks bar on Google Chrome, which is my default browser, as well as use gmail and google calendar. It’s just easier to navigate our busy digital days, as these services synch across the multiple devices we often move between now. Besides, from everything we’ve heard and read about over the last election and before, it seems if some dedicated individual(s) or organization, nefarious or otherwise, really wants to target a server or cpu, it’s only a matter of time. The recent Sony and Target hacks, the DNC and Podesta hacks, and N. Korea has apparently moved beyond Sony and gotten into the cyberheist business, recently of the Bank of New York ( I do use the AvastSafeZone browser for shopping and banking, but again, as you said and given recent events, can we really be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that anything we put online is truly secure?

    This is precisely the kind of, ostensibly non-partisan, issue we would expect our esteemed leaders in D.C. to properly address and regulate in the best interests of our economic and national security, but what we get instead are the usual pissing contests that leave most everyone, well, pissed.

    Even more, the coming tsunami of the “internet of things” has opened up an entirely new and rich target environment for hackers large and small. The recent incident of “smart” Teddy Bears being hacked to spy on their owners and holding personal information for ransom is only among the first incident of this new brand of privacy invasion ( We ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!

    Wildwood – regarding your crappy display issue, try going into your Control Panel window (right click on the desktop > personalization > control panel home); from there, locate and click “Display”; there you can adjust any number of settings, like resolution, brightness, calibrate color, etc. Alternatively, on the main Personalization window, you can try various other “Windows Default Themes” shown there, which may generate a more presentable text and folder display. Hope that helps, good luck!

    Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  12. Wildwood wrote:

    Thanks Ralph. I printed it out and will play with it to see what I can do. I will probably wait until my son gets back from Shanghai so in case I totally screw things up, he can come over and fix it. đŸ˜‰ Another thought I has was that I haven’t had an eye exam in a long time, so maybe I should do that first.

    Friday, April 7, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  13. Ralph wrote:

    Wildwood – most welcome. The suggestions I made produce very benign changes and would not screw up anything important, like files or programs, just how things like colors and fonts appear on your monitor, and you can also click back to “default settings” easily if you don’t like the change. The link IK provided to the Kim Komando site may also have relevant tips there as well, beyond the one on google he points to. She’s gotten me out of several jams over the years and is very good at walking you through to a solution. Good luck.

    IK – on the subject of VPNs, the NYT just posted an article about the pros and cons that I thought you and readers here might find of interest. As you mentioned, it’s far from a perfect solution, to say the least, and the piece goes into some specifics, some actually quite severe, like much slower download/upload speeds and lack of functionality with some streaming services like Netflix.

    Here’s the link:

    Friday, April 7, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

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