The Right Vote

"We need comprehensive privacy legislation and real net neutrality legislation enacted at the federal level now, not later, and the CRA vote just delays that and gives members of Congress an easy out." -Mike Montgomery, CALinnovates

Nearly every day brings new stories of children being tracked, Russians being indicted, and online-fueled hate exploding into real-world violence – all while the big tech platforms that enable this chaos report record earnings and shrug off Congressional oversight without breaking a sweat.

Mike Montgomery

Mike Montgomery

The internet has never been more vital to our lives, our culture and our economy, but it has never been more out of balance.

The American people are demanding comprehensive action to rein in these giant platforms, protect our privacy and permanently keep cyberspace open and free – with 80% believing the big platforms haven’t done enough to secure their networks. Nearly 60% are concerned the government won’t do enough to solve the problem. Yet, amazingly, the only internet bill on the agenda in Congress is a backward-looking resolution that will actually reduce our privacy protections.

The resolution is called the “CRA” (for Congressional Review Act), and it’s being pitched as a way to protect net neutrality. But that’s a complete charade. We need comprehensive privacy legislation and real net neutrality legislation enacted at the federal level now, not later, and the CRA vote just delays that and gives members of Congress an easy out instead of pushing them to draft, debate and support real, bipartisan, pro-consumer legislation.

The CRA doesn’t enact any permanent net neutrality protections. It also does nothing to protect our privacy, secure the internet from Russian bots or election attacks, bring accountability to all tech platforms across the board, or boost innovation and ensure competition.

All the CRA would do if it passed (something that itself is extremely unlikely in a Republican Congress) is temporarily restore an old and out-of-date version of net neutrality that applies to broadband providers only and then send the entire issue back to the Federal Communications Commission, where anything could happen – including reversal of even those limited rules.

And worse, in the process, the CRA would strip away one of the key internet privacy protections Americans currently enjoy. Right now, the Federal Trade Commission is the lead privacy cop for the big cable and telecom companies. It protects Americans from unfair and deceptive practices online, including breaches of privacy policies and other abuses of our data. This is why the Obama Administration made “strong enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission” the centerpiece of its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012.

But the CRA would eliminate the FTC’s jurisdiction over internet providers – creating a privacy gap when more data protection, not less, is necessary.

Congress has an enormous opportunity in front of it. There is wide, bipartisan agreement that we need new, stronger rules of the road for the entire internet – tech platforms, broadband providers, and any entity collecting and using consumer data.

The recent Facebook hearings had members of both parties demanding accountability and calling for solutions. One Representative from a district decimated by online opioid sales put it most directly, saying, “Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity, and in so doing you are hurting people.”

It’s not often the stars align in this way – and it would be a dereliction for Congress to squander this chance for real progress in favor of an empty, feel-good CRA.

Instead, Congress should be driving toward comprehensive legislation to strengthen our privacy; make net neutrality permanent; apply it to all companies that pick and choose what we can see and do online; and require real cybersecurity and data protection that includes strong penalties for companies that breach our trust.

That’s the kind of vote a woke Congress would take.

Mike Montgomery is the executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy organization.