A piece of legislation that will allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to share internet usage without permission from the user has been passed with bipartisan congressional support.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the motion in March, then forwarding it to President Donald Trump, who officially signed the resolution for implementation.
The new law, called the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (or CLOUD), overturns a previous privacy rule that was passed during the tenure of the former U.S. President Barack Obama that prohibited ISPs from sharing information about users without their consent.
The Effect of the Newly Adopted Law
By overturning the previous law that required permission from an individual before their data can be shared, online consumers are on the losing end since their information is within reach of the government at any time. What’s more is that the Internet Service Providers will have no other choice but to comply whenever requested by security agencies.
Since Americans are very fond of using the internet to undertake various activities on a daily basis and ISPs can access the online habits of an individual, then for sure, the resolution is likely to affect a considerable number of citizens.
The confidential data gathered by the ISPs includes—but is not limited to—the sites frequently visited, the time spent on each web page and download habits.
This information can also be used by the Internet Service Providers to determine the preference of the user. With that information, the ISPs can then send the data to ad companies who will know what information to display whenever a given user is accessing certain websites.
For this reason, it is notable that the Internet Service Providers will benefit since they will gain more revenue by selling customers’ information to online advertising agencies.
However, companies such as Google and Facebook can know what you are doing when on their sites as well, and they too can use the same information to bring you ads based on your searches and clicks.
Now, the other party that will benefit most are the security agencies since through searches and clicks, they will be able to tell which users are engaging in certain types of online activities. Using the information, it becomes relatively easy to carry out investigations on a suspect.
For illustration purposes, consider an individual whose browsing history is related to the acquisition of weapons, drug trafficking, kidnapping or anything else that is suspicious; once security personnel gets of a hold of such data, then the person involved will be subject to scrutiny.
For this reason, one can say that the new law discretely allows the government to monitor the online activities of the internet user. Perhaps if they would have brought up the motion directly, then it could have caused an uproar and thus is the need to introduce it in a somewhat indirect manner.
Apparently, upon implementation of this law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be in a tight spot when it comes to adopting privacy rules in the future. The commission will not be able to pass any law that targets the online privacy of an individual but what they can do is come up with a new “modus operandi” based on the existing situation.
Despite all this, the good news is that the Internet Service Providers will have the option of declining to share the data if by any chance they suspect the information will be used in the wrong way.
There are also other questions about this new law that should be taken into consideration.
For example, what if there is a data breach at the ISPs and the hackers can dispose of the information on the dark web? Such considerations are why it is crucial to find a solution to predetermined problems which have the possibility of occurring.
Response from the Public & Privacy Advocates
As expected, communities who view online privacy as a crucial element expressed their concerns as the move would jeopardize their activities and further compromise their safety and security.
In one instance, author, speaker and Bitcoin advocate Andreas Antonopoulos openly criticized the new law on Twitter, writing that it “destroys privacy globally.”
He further advises internet users to employ the use of anonymity tools and encryption methods when communicating over the internet—a move that’s also widespread among dark web users.
In yet another instance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticized the CLOUD Act as it is in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which covers communications privacy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also opposes the CLOUD Act, stating that it threatens citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment and enables executive discretion at the expense of congressional authority.
The primary reason is that any of the security agencies within the U.S. can access the data of any individual at will, in contrast to the previous method where they would require a warrant. According to the Fourth Amendment, there must be a high level of suspicion before law enforcement personnel can initiate any investigations against an individual.
Solution: Going Dark
The implementation of the CLOUD act may see an increase in the number of persons embracing the use of anonymous messaging platforms together with the use of encryption methods. Doing so can reduce the risks associated with online activates.
Currently, there are several encryption services that users can finds—some are free and others come at a cost. The tools used will depend on the taste, preference, and convenience of the user. However, one ought to take extra precaution when purchasing an encrypted device.
Last month, the CEO of Phantom Secure, a company that deals with offering encryption devices and services, was arrested alongside his associates for knowingly designing products meant for criminals.
Because of this, some of those who used the encrypted devices in Australia were arrested after the police conducted raids in several locations. Also, the devices they were using had to be confiscated.
Consultation, therefore, remains the best option for an individual seeking to use encryption devices and methods in order to circumvent government-sanctioned surveillance. That being said, it is noted that in some cases it may not be necessary to use them.