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Congress Is Trying to Roll Back Internet Privacy Protections (eff.org)
356 points by dwaxe on Mar 7, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

> Worse yet, it forbids the agency from passing any “substantially similar” regulations in the future, so the FCC would be forbidden from ever trying to regulate ISP privacy practices.

This part really stood out to me and I don't fully understand how it can occur.

Would the government (or rather its citizens) be better off if permanently banning future legislation wasn't allowed? Is there any case in which a permanent ban on future legislation would be, or has been, productive or reasonable?

edit: distinguishing between constitutionally-enacted and simply legislator-enacted bans on future legislation.. If this ban is supposed to be based on unconstitutionality, how would it be spun in such a way?

Congress can't ban itself from doing something in the future. Well it could, but it could always repeal the law.

But federal administrative regulations aren't legislation created by congress. They are rule created by agencies. However, the agency must be granted that power by congress specifically.

The FCC can make rules about telecommunication because congress gave them the power to regulate telecommunications and it gave them guidelines for the type of rules they can make. This proposed change would edit the scope of the agencies authority.

Completely legal.

>Congress can't ban itself from doing something in the future.

You'd like to think that, but then you discover the Congressional Review Act: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Review_Act. 'Once a rule is thus repealed, the CRA also prohibits the reissuing of the rule in substantially the same form or the issuing of a new rule that is substantially the same, "unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule" (5 U.S. Code § 801(b)(2)). Congress has a window of time lasting 60 legislative days (i.e., days that the U.S. Congress is actually in session, rather than calendar days) to disapprove of any given rule; otherwise the rule will go into effect at the end of this period.'

It had been used once prior to this administration/ Congress.

To go further though, couldn't you repeal that bit?

>Is there any case in which a permanent ban on future legislation would be, or has been, productive or reasonable?

Not to be pedantic, but the US Constitution contains a few pretty big permanent bans on future legislation. Government limiting governments power is a hallmark of the American system.

It's important to note that the US constitution is just law like any other; it's just harder to change. Get enough people agreeing (hard in the current climate) and you can change provisions in the constitution. It's been altered 27 times so far, and #21 was rolling back the changes in #18.

Interesting! I didn't know that actually.

It seems like those bans on future legislation can be traced back to fundamental parts of the Constitution, though, right? Parts that aim to protect the citizenry.

The constitution is also supposed to be the highest power in the land, however these are simply legislators banning future legislators.

No, they are legislators banning regulators. Regulators are executive branch officials whose rulemaking power comes from legislative grants of power and can be removed or limited by the legislative branch.

This is, of course, aside from the question of whether a particular legislative limit on rulemaking is desirable or not.

Regulations are not legislation. The FCC was created through legislation which defines its power and scope. This would be part of that definition.

The constitution / bill of rights is one fairly successful example of that.

The purpose of that is to ensure that certain fundamental rights of citizens are protected, though, whereas this is the banning of future similar legislation in a way that I only see as being favorable to companies, not citizens.

Ya, but then you're just disagreeing with the content of the decision (which is fine, and I agree with you) and not its structure (regulation that precludes future regulation).

Congress can't ban future legislation. The bill bans FCC rulemaking. Future legislation could give the power back to the FCC.

A couple people mentioned the Constitution. It can be modified. The modifications can be taken out (see Prohibition in the US).

> Congress can't ban future legislation

It regularly does, but such bans have no force beyond that of tradition.

Which is also true of the Constitution and law and so on.

Well, yes but on a different level; Congressional laws that purport to restrain future legislation have no authority even in legal theory. It's true that all law is a fiction that only has authority to the extent that people choose to treat it as if it had authority, though, you are correct.

If you're a company that supports the EFF (even through individual donations, corporate matching, etc.), I'd love to hear about you, and consider supporting you as well!

As would I!

Mostly, I'm EFF's International Director, but as of yesterday, I've taken a temporary secondment to work for six months with our development (read: fundraising) team.

We're facing a number of challenges on many fronts, and like many of our colleagues in the non-profit world right now, we're having to ramp up quickly to face them.

We get a huge amount of expert advice and moral support from technologists here on Hacker News, but we only really ever chip in with the occasional technical comment.

For the next six months at least I'd be delighted to talk with anyone who is as interested in supporting us financially, or understanding better how that works. You can mail me on danny@eff.org or comment here.

This is a bit of an experiment for me (I'm more comfortable talking about global censorship and surveillance than asking people for a few bitcoins), as well as for EFF. To keep with the mod rules here, it's probably worth trying to keep on-topic to this post, but happy to chat offline or arrange or more general conversation.

Hi, I'd be happy to chat. We (Aptible) have donated as a company in the past and will in the future. Chas at aptible.com

Hey chasb, email sent!

One thing that has always kept me from donating to the EFF is the apparent lack of on-the-ground lobbying operations; I contribute to Public Knowledge instead, because they (seem to be) much more involved in the policy process.

Am I reading the situation correctly? If so, do you guys have plans to shift strategy given the direction of Congress today?

PK are great people, and definitely a good port of call.

For our strategy shift, I'd read our 100 day plan here: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/01/our-100-day-plan , especially point 7, which is about our D.C. ground game.

We have a domestic legislative team (led by Ernesto Falcon, PK's former VP of government affairs https://www.eff.org/about/staff/ernesto-omar-falcon ). It's not something that we talk about a lot, because the work tends to be in the weeds, doing line-by-line critiques of new laws, or talking to dedicated staffers. We try and do deep dives about our legislative work in EFFector when we can, but mostly people here about our big activism or tech pushes.

One of the aspects of how Congress is directed at the moment is that direct lobbying for civil liberties within Congress may be a bit of a limited strategy (something we're familiar with from previous times in our existence). In those situations, we think it's equally important to equally emphasize the alternative strategies -- fight executive overreach and unconstitutional law in the courts, create technology to protect users, and work on legal protections at the state and international level. D.C. lobbying is part of that (and we've been thinking more seriously about other ways to build that up which I'd be happy to brainstorm with you), but we think these days it works best if you integrate it with other strategies. The power of being a D.C. insider isn't as great as it has been these days, and the strength of advocacy, court challenges, and tech is showing itself right now. - d.

Hi there. We (Aptible) are big fans.

Likewise and god damn I respect you if you do.

Big picture here is this:

The oligarchy has taken over every form of media communication throughout history. The printing press, the telegraph, the radio, the television. The internet by design was resistent to centralization, the main method used on the other mediums, but the oligarchy fought a small fight in the form of the 90's cryptowars and then sorta let up. They recognize now though, that the last bastion of true, anarchistic freedom of thought is the internet, and globally will begin to attack it through many means, not just legislative.

Decentralization avoiding targeting in an age of mass surveillance is difficult, and this move towards centralization undermines the entire original purpose of the internet as a form of communication that could survive targeting. If we remember this, and build open source, encrypted, decentralized systems, we still might have a chance to keep the internet us older geeks remember.

I also have a theory that it is the technology of the internet that has artificially accelerated the oligarchy's attack time frame, because they are desperate to not let the cat out of the bag. Once the world gets a taste of intellectual freedom, they won't want to go back, and the cat is out of the bag so to speak. This is forcing their hand early and is a weakness.

I want to propose a strictly simpler theory: there isn't any organized Oligarchy assaulting the Internet. There's just lots and lots of people with various interests trying to exploit the Internet for their own gains. Tons of companies, big and small, that don't think twice about fucking up the Internet in pursuit of profit. Politicians who want more power. Law enforcement people that want to make their jobs easier. None of them wanting to destroy the Internet, because the very thought doesn't cross their minds. They don't think in that large of a scale.

I.e. the usual tragedy of the commons. Things were all fun when they were irrelevant. Then the Internet started to matter, and the exploiters came, fucking everything up.

I would agree with you but then I found out about the bilderberg meetings. It seems like the Oligarchy is very very real, maybe not unified in thought but real enough to set and discuss agendas.


They don't need to strictly be organized in the bilderburg/bohemian grove sense because we live in a corporatist country the people who's companies are just 'responding to economic incentives' are the same people who are designing the systems of incentives.

there is absolutely an oligarchy. See 1, 2, and 3.

if you think they arent organizing to protect their interests and expand their political influence, that honestly comes across as naive with the information available today.

[1] http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--Tb_z5Fcz...

[2] http://cds.y5f6s2q6.hwcdn.net/25541/sx2xsdjns30fwy0557v4.jpe...

[3] http://www.yellowstonepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/0...

You uploaded a few random pictures (also Gawker? Seriously?) of the different divisions of companies, and you think this in irrefutable proof of an organized conspiracy to go all "1984" on the internet?

Real life isn't a movie. Move on.

If you'll look at the chart closely you'll notice that NBC controls the Weather Channel. Shocking.

They could punch it up a level and swap in Comcast, which now owns NBC (and subsidiaries).

Ad hominem and straw man attacks are very weak forms of counterargument.

I personally agree that media concentration is a problem, but those pictures honestly aren't the best argument for this thread.

A) The only media concentration chart depicted was largely centered on television-heavy media conglomerates... so no mention of newspaper-heavy conglomerates like Gannett and McClatchy. Food and banking are not quite related to this discussion.

B) The television-heavy media conglomerates depicted were very United States-centric. So no mention of (as an example) Bertelsmann. (Internationally, you'll also find many state-sponsored media outlets... not sure how those should be represented here).

One other counterpoint: there is a bit of a trend towards greater ownership diversity (of a sort) in the newspaper market, at least in the United States. Individual businessmen have snapped up several papers in the last few years (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/rieder/2013/08...), ala Bezos famously buying the Washington Post.

Are you calling the claim that big brands are an oligopoly a straw man?

No, I think you may have mistaken which comment was the parent to my comment.

Straw man:

>irrefutable proof of an organized conspiracy to go all "1984" on the internet? Real life isn't a movie.

That does seem to be the dynamic. The popularization of the Internet beyond military and academia did catch oligarchies off guard. Also the associated popularization of PCs, and public-interest cryptography.

So yes, the cat got out of the bag. But not out of the prison. There is no real freedom using smartphones, and now PCs are becoming more and more like smartphones. The Internet is a morass of nested panopticons.

Anyway, hand wringing about FCC etc policy seems silly. Even if it does materially affect privacy for US citizens, it's irrelevant to everyone else. What we need are better approaches for individuals and groups to guarantee their own privacy.

The decentralization of the Internet was killed by major NSPs closing their peering, the original Net Neutrality loss.

Decentralization will keep on losing until it is more economically efficient. And performs better. Kind of like solar.

Decentralization and centralization are processes happening every day everywhere throughout the internet. One big change in topography doesn't mean decentralization done for. It's a constant cat and mouse game and in net the decentralizers are winning.

I was using "decentralized" in the "sees censorship as damage and routes around it" sense. Whatever you think of the nature of control over and flexibility of networks, the topology is simpler and less flexible with major providers having closed peering, and this does not ebb and flow.

Also, it was not "one big change." It happened over frog-boiling years.

I think I might be drifting further from the tech community when conspiratorial rants are highly praised (through votes). The tech community's own version of alternatives medicine kind of.

I also noticed the ranting tone of the EFF article describing congressional overview in strange terms (Congress making it illegal for the federal government to ever go against them - having final say on laws of kind of Congress's job, not agencies).

While I might disagree with some actions, others that seem to raise heart rates I'm not that concerned about. I'm 40 so maybe my days of over reacting are over? I work in finance so maybe my perception has changed? I generally tend to prefer less regulation as I get older (I campaigned for Greens in college)?

Count me out of the daily outrage and revolution. I'm going to take nap and get the kids off my lawn.

> The internet by design was resistent to centralization, the main method used on the other mediums

Books are centralised... how? People self-publish left, right, and centre to this day. And you don't need "other people's pipes" to self-publish either, whereas the internet, by definition, is other people's pipes (the 'inter' bit).

> the entire original purpose of the internet as a form of communication that could survive targeting

The original purpose of the internet was maintaining military comms, not civilian. The network itself was meant to be decentralised, but the controlling entity couldn't have been more centralised.

The end of net neutrality is a serious issue, but we shouldn't be rewriting history to make our points.

>Books are centralised... how?

When a book is published, it is one source producing static information for many readers. One to many. Producer -> Consumer(s). To create a book before the internet you had to be in the central location of the working copy. For more detailed historical analysis of how the printing press created highly centralized societies, check out The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan[1].

On the contrary, with the internet, many people are producing and consuming dynamic content simultaneously with many people who are doing the same. Many to many. Prosumer <-> Prosumer[2]. Think of a Google Doc where anyone located anywhere across the globe can simultaneously collaborate on a Google Doc.



That's quite spin-doctory. You may as well say that food is centralised because you have to be in the central location of whatever food it is you're consuming, regardless of the fact that literally billions of different people prepare food every day, in every inhabited place on earth.

That's true. Agricultural production is mostly centralized (i.e. Monsanto's monopoly). Just because a lot of people consume food doesn't change that.

One of the earliest centralized societies (cities) was Sumer, where we also see one of the first well established written languages (the written word being a centralizing medium) and also one of the first well established centers of agricultural production.

> Agricultural production is mostly centralized (i.e. Monsanto's monopoly).

Monsanto's dominance is in seed supply to agricultural producers, not agricultural production itself.

Are seeds not a fundamental requirement to agricultural production?

Sure, but the Windows monopoly was a desktop OS monopoly, not a monopoly in every industry in which desktop computing capacity was a key input.

Now, in the absence of effective regulatory intervention, there's a risk of a monopoly in one market being leveraged to other markets, and moving up or down the production chain is one of the most common ways that happens, but, there's still (even in the absence of effective regulatory intervention) a difference between a monopoly in market X and one in market Y that threatens to be extended to X.

As they say be careful what you wish for, you might get it. A lot of people these days have been raised with propaganda about freedom of speech and other goodness. Which were just rhetorical phrases that meant little. When they mean much I am not sure you're going to like the results. Intellectual freedom means the freedom to tell the truth, but also your own truth as well as the truth of your group. All of these various partial truths don't always agree and might not be good from a utilitarian perspective. Not to mention all the spectrum of lies.

You seem to be arguing against actual freedom of speech. And focusing on the utilitarian importance of agreement with "the truth of your group" vs "the spectrum of lies". The problem is that "truth" is nontrivial to determine, and arguably best approximated through dialog. And without freedom for everyone to make their arguments, there can be no useful dialog.

You can make your argument to only those people who share your frame of reference and a certain set of axioms. Everyone else can't even understand where you are coming from. The stupid people always have the intelligent at a disadvantage. And usually there are more or them and fewer of you (the intelligent man).

It does seem that way, sometimes. But maybe consider this: As soon as you've decided that someone is stupid, you've lost the possibility of communicating effectively with them. Because they're not stupid ;)

> But maybe consider this: As soon as you've decided that someone is stupid, you've lost the possibility of communicating effectively with them. Because they're not stupid ;)

I'm sorry, what? This makes no sense, sounds like a platitude.

So many questions:

1) Why would you loose posibility to communicate effectively with them? You can still choose to communicate, just at a different level of discourcs or applealing to different talking points than before. Actually, as soon you realise someone is stupid, if you're intelligent enough, you should be able to communicate MORE eaffectively, vecause you know your conversation partner more.

2) They could actually be stupid. There are stupid people on this earth, you know. Not that they're wrthless as a person, or anything, it's just that they don't have the processing power to keep up with certain concepts. And that's fine and normal, such people exist.

Sure, you can trick people. But this was about having a meaningful discussion, not about winning.

And the signal that they have succeeded is that comments like this one can either not exist or will be pushed out of visibility.

The best anyone can hope to do is roll things back to text-based systems... beyond that the cat is way too far out of the bag as you say.

Please say more. What sort of text-based systems? And why? Bandwidth?

Riffing from Vinge's True Names, I've off-and-on wondered about mixnets as covert-channel overlays on high-definition video traffic. Given ~1% signal/carrier, you would pretty much be limited to text and small images.

I wasn't thinking of anything in particular, sorry. I was just thinking in terms of what you're saying, if you break your messages down, hash them, send them in drips and drabs in the background noise, it would be almost impossible to track. Low-bandwidth MESH networks, and just plain people with microwave transmitters and receivers with direct line of sight, daisy-chaining around a neighborhood.

The ideas are so prevalent in the public imagination now, that I can't imagine shutting things down would lead to anything other than innovation in the face of it.

Yeah, that makes sense to me. I hope that we don't come to it, though.

Edit: I'm reminded of Hyperboria and cjdns.[0,1] Arguably how IPv6 should work.

0) https://hyperboria.net

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cjdns

The Forbes article is misleading.

1. It attempts to simultaneously argue that ISPs don't need additional regulation and oversight, but also that the FCC's rules are bad because they supposedly prevent additional oversight from the FTC.

2. It attempts to equate ISPs with other kinds of tech companies, particularly website operators. It then argues that a pillar of the current web is offering free or discounted services in return for targeted advertisements, and that it is unfair to restrict ISPs ability to do this when websites are allowed to do this and consumers clearly favor this tradeoff. (Also simultaneously arguing that ISPs haven't done much throttling/targeting yet, so allowing them to do so is not a problem.)

This is a dangerously disengenous comparison, as my ISP controls all websites that I visit and has the power to e.g. throttle any video service that I attempt to access besides its own, while YouTube has no control over my connection to a competitor's video service.

I have a number of smaller problems with the article, but those are my major ones.

The letter advances the same arguments and they have the same faults.

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettle_logic

> The FCC provided no evidence to substantiate the proposition that broadband providers respected consumer privacy any less than other members of the internet ecosystem.

Without knowing entirely what they're referencing, I would say that we need to make sure broadband providers respect consumer privacy, regardless of what "other members of the internet ecosystem" are doing.

> Consumers enjoy the advertising-supported internet and innovation...

Uhh... no.

Actually yes, yes we do. We enjoy the internet that we have, that is partially enabled by ads. Even those of us that block ads (freeloaders, if you will), enjoy the internet that's supported by ads that other people don't block.

Actually, no, now I don't. I despise ads for reasons not least of which is that they are a form of insidious psychological conditioning.

I'd much rather have the predominant funding model be similar to services like patreon. Netflix has shown that you don't need ads, ads everywhere to produce quality media in this age, just as premium cable did in the past. I'd rather have a few channels or sites of quality than hundreds of pieces of crap

If such a model is to be protected from the dynamics of a free market economy (Higher demand driving prices higher) it requires significant government intervention, at the very least, analogous to the metro system in certain cities, to ensure that the different strata of society have access to it without breaking their backs. However, as with most non-essential consumables, the model is susceptible to privatisation whose motivation is often, solely the maximisation of profit. Perhaps a lobbying group analogous to the NRA could help counter such overtures for privatisation by the industry.

Right. The advertising-supported internet was good for a while, in my mind, only so that we could see just how bad it can be for the end user, and we can move on to better business models.

> I'd rather have a few channels or sites of quality than hundreds of pieces of crap

100% agreed

Also, weren't the ISPs injecting their own ads onto remotely hosted webpages? Is the claim here that people love looking at annoying banner ads?

Since forbes refuses to give me the article unless I disable adblock, is it really worth the read to me?

I decided a long time ago that Forbes was no longer for me. I want a free internet. Ad free.

This NY Times article covers the rollback of those rules in a much larger context of a mass reduction in public protections:


Does it matter with the release of all the CIA Hacking information just released?

Sure. Limiting what records ISPs keep and sell is good for individuals regardless of what the CIA is doing.

I wonder when ISPs will begin to uniformly inject ads into all website content, in some way (such as hijacking DNS to show ads before the website appears).


It's that they see anyone telling them what to do, regardless of the reasons or outcomes, as taking away their freedom. In a way they're certainly right, the more regulation the less freedom you have, however why they take it to the degree of being callous and fatalistic when it will affect them negatively is a mystery. Of course, other than the military, that there can never be enough of.

That tends to be what someone who has a world view of "what's in it for me", vs. "what's best for everyone". The stronger the sense of "me", the stronger the sense of having to protect yourself, whereas the opposite view tends not to bring about that neurosiss.

> they see anyone telling them what to do, regardless of the reasons or outcomes, as taking away their freedom

But they're more than happy to tell gay people not to marry, women not to get abortions, transgender people not to use the bathroom and marijuana users not to smoke. Let's not pretend Republicans or Democrats are some paragon of freedom. Both want to restrict the actions of others, just to different ends.

I can't speak as a Republican (so I risk showing my ignorance) but in a way, I think you actually have it backwards. Republicans usually care a lot about the individual real people that they know personally. However, they tend to regard broad identifiers such as "African American" or "LGBT" or "working class" as abstract artificial entities in much the same way that you think of corporations. So I think it's less "Republicans love corporations and hate people" than "Republican politicians have lots of friends in upper corporate management and want to help out their friends".

You jumped a few steps:

1. This action 2. The content of this action is bad for people 3. Supporting something bad for certain people implies you hate those people 4. People supporting this action know this action is bad for people 5. Republican representatives in general support this action

I don't think any of the subsequent points are certain.

For the second part:

1. This action 2. The contents of this action benefit corporations at the expense of real people 3. People supporting this action know it does that 4. Republican representatives in general support this action

The same here.

> Why do Republicans hate people

Please don't post partisan rants here or break the HN guideline against name-calling.


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