BIDDEFORD — Congress recently passed a bill blocking internet service provider privacy-protection rules. The rules would have required internet service providers that gather private subscriber data to ask the subscriber for permission before selling the data and require the internet service providers to put security in place to stop hackers from stealing the data.

This bill caused widespread outrage, prompting U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to say: “Nobody’s got to use the internet.” The notion is that if you don’t want all your private data exposed, the remedy is not to use the internet – this is not a practical way to build a functioning economy and society.

This statement prompted me think of an Alfred selectman I worked with a few years ago. He didn’t use the internet himself – he would have the town office print out his emails so he could read them – but he understood how important the internet was to the future of his town and was pushing hard to get Alfred the best internet possible.

If any elected official in Maine doubts the necessity of internet access, they should canvass their constituents and pay particular attention to educators, health care professionals, businesspeople and the young people Maine is trying to attract and retain.

It isn’t possible to get the best education and the best health care, run most businesses or participate fully in our democracy without internet access. For most people, using the internet is no longer optional, particularly now that mobile access (cellphones) is internet access.

Under the new law, privacy may no longer be an option, as your internet service provider can gather an extraordinary amount of private information about you: Not just your browsing history, but also the videos you view, your messages, your phone calls and the games you play. All of these traverse the internet now.


Your internet service provider also knows your physical location via a technique called “geolocation.” An illustration of the problems this raises is the recent move by a Massachusetts advertising company to track the location of women and then send them targeted anti-abortion ads when the women were near abortion clinics. The same tactics could be used to track who visited a particular store, gun show, house of worship, political rally or other site or event.

Because the law both allows your internet service provider to sell this data without your permission and weakens security requirements, it is highly likely that your private data will be available to criminals and governments. U.S. businesses have repeatedly shown themselves to be unable to guard customer data from hackers and government cyber agents.

I am a part of the internet service provider industry and I don’t like government regulation, particularly when it regulates my actions. Competition should be our protection against bad behavior like privacy breaches. Unfortunately, there is little competition among internet service providers, and most people effectively have only one choice. Therefore, the potential violation of privacy allowed by our current regulatory regime is so great that something must be done. If for every citizen, massive amounts of private data are available, then the rest of our constitutional protections become meaningless.

We sell internet access, and I know that if people can’t trust the internet, then the value of the internet is significantly lessened, as it will be used less for sensitive applications. Even if government regulation blocks us from making money selling customer data (something we would never do), I still benefit because a trusted internet is more valuable to my customers.

The big internet service providers tell us that we can trust them to regulate themselves, but a search on “Verizon super cookie FCC fine,” “Comcast network neutrality violation” and “ISP deep packet inspection” shows otherwise. Public companies are optimized to maximize shareholder value and public company employees are rewarded for doing so.

Your private information is of great value to advertisers, criminals and governments. It is unreasonable to expect for-profit corporations to do anything less than constantly test the limits of what they can get away with when it comes to collecting and selling your private information. We will all benefit if there is the proper and measured government regulation of network privacy.

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