Congress fails, but Illinois can protect your online privacy

SHARE Congress fails, but Illinois can protect your online privacy

This June 19, 2015, file photo, shows the Federal Communications Commission building in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Follow @csteditorialsStuff that is nobody’s business but yours is about to become everybody’s business, such as information about your health and finances, about your children, and about what websites you visit and which apps you use.

If you find that scary, you should.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to overturn a Federal Communication Commission rule that would have required internet providers to get consumers’ consent before selling that information to third parties. On Tuesday, the House Republicans followed suit in a vote along party lines. The measure now is headed to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.


Follow @csteditorialsThe bill is an indefensible invasion of privacy. Supporters — some of whom have raked in hefty donations from internet providers — argued the bill levels the playing field because some companies, such as phone apps and content providers, aren’t covered by the privacy rule. But internet service providers are a different story. Most people have a very limited choice of internet providers — often there is just one. That means they can’t shop around for a different company that offers better privacy protections.

And unlike free apps that live off advertising, internet providers are paid directly by consumers. They don’t need to get greedy.

Your internet provider sees everything you do online, and once it starts selling that information, there’s no telling where it will end up. Will political parties buy it to  shape elections? Will your nosy neighbor who works at a company that buys your information take a peek at your personal life? Who will wind up knowing all about your medications, or, as one congressman pointed out, your underwear size?

Ideally, Trump would veto this bill, but that is not expected. If he does not, however, the Illinois Legislature can and should create some privacy protections.

Bills already have been introduced to provide a Europe-style “right to know” that would let consumers find out what information about them is collected and shared; to limit when people can be tracked by smartphone applications, and to regulate the eavesdropping by microphones in cell phones, smart TVs and internet-linked personal assistants.

What we do online is our business, not the property of faceless corporations. Where we go and what we do on the internet tells a lot about us — much more than Big Brother could glean with his primitive telescreens. Companies shouldn’t be able to sell off our passwords, Social Security numbers, online applications, medical prescriptions or records of when we go to Facebook or Google. Once sold, there is no requirement that such information be reasonably protected from hackers.

Government should protect personal privacy, not selling us out.

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