A laptop in use.
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Asked about privacy changes, GOP rep says internet usage is optional

Despite Republican dominance of federal power, GOP policymakers haven’t had any major legislative successes so far this year, though they have had some lower-profile victories. Take online privacy, for example.

As regular readers know, the Obama administration approved privacy protections last year to stop internet service providers from selling information about their consumers’ browsing history without their knowledge or consent. Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump’s White House undid those rules.

The Washington Post recently reported that service providers, including online giants such Verizon and Comcast (MSNBC’s parent company), will now be able to “monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads…. The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data – all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent.”

I’ve been eager to hear how GOP lawmakers will respond to concerns about their policy, and American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, posted a video yesterday of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) answering a constituent’s question about this. The Wisconsin Republican said:
“You know, nobody’s got to use the internet…. I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice….”
The congressman’s press office added yesterday afternoon that Sensenbrenner made the case “that nobody has to use the internet. They have a choice.”

Oh. So if you have privacy concerns about ISPs selling your browsing history without your knowledge or consent, the solution isn’t Obama-era consumer safeguards. Evidently, Jim Sensenbrenner believes you should simply choose to stay offline.

I suppose in a literal sense, the Republican lawmaker is correct. Americans don’t have to access the internet. They also don’t have to use electricity or indoor plumbing. Modern amenities have become part of our lives, but those with concerns about the way in which these services are used can choose to go without.

If this is the new GOP line, however, in response to the Republican measure to roll back internet privacy protections, the party’s talking points may not prove persuasive to the American mainstream.

Jim Sensenbrenner, Privacy and Technology

Asked about privacy changes, GOP rep says internet usage is optional