A U-turn on internet privacy
In March, US Rep. Michael Capuano took the House floor, channeled his best inner-Somerville (circa 1980), and ripped Republican lawmakers who were about to strip away internet privacy protections for consumers that had been adopted in the closing months of the Obama administration.
“What the heck are you thinking? What is in your mind,” thundered a flabbergasted Capuano.
The Federal Communication Commission rules, which were supposed to go into effect this December, would ban internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon from sharing or selling subscribers’ browsing history. Under the FCC rule change, the companies would have to get a customer’s permission to collect such information.
In what should become a classic TMI moment of House floor speeches, Capuano went on to make his point by sharing that he recently made an online purchase of new underwear. “Why should you know what size I take, or the color?” he asked. (Why, any student of modern politics must have wondered, no reference to boxers or briefs?)
The Republican run on internet privacy stirred a strong backlash, with crowdfunding campaigns launched to raise money to buy — and publicly release — the browsing history information of GOP lawmakers. One of the prime targets: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, chairman of the pivotal House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, who was reported to have received $84,000 in campaign donations from the telecom industry in the 2016 election cycle and nearly $700,000 over the span of her career.
But Blackburn, in an Emily Litella moment, has now basically declared, “never mind.”
The Tennessee Republican has reversed course on the issue and declared that she still wants to even the playing field for internet providers, but she wants to do so not by freeing them from the privacy rules, but by making the rules apply to non-service providers like Google and Facebook as well.
“Internet privacy has a new best friend, and it’s the last person you’d expect,” writes the Globe’s Hiawatha Bray about Blackburn’s about-face on the issue.
Along with two Republican colleagues, Blackburn has filed legislation to require consumer permission to collect browsing data for service providers as well as online businesses. The bill would do that by imposing regulations through the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to regulate both types of businesses unlike the FCC, whose reach only extends to internet service providers.
“The government should not pick winners and losers when it comes to the privacy of Americans,” Blackburn said. “This bill creates a level and fair privacy playing field by bringing all entities that collect and sell the personal data of individuals under the same rules.”
In his March floor speech, Capuano implored his Republican colleagues to check with their constituents on the issue.
It seems Blackburn just might have taken him up on the challenge.
In a statement she issued after her flip on the issue, Blackburn said, “If you ask the American people if they’re OK with having less control over their online privacy so companies can sell their data — they’d say no.”
Bray says Blackburn’s bill could hurt online advertising revenue, harming small online operators and perhaps also news sites like the Globe’s. But he says “our privacy is worth something too.”
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Joan Vennochi says German chancellor Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world. (Boston Globe)
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Former state treasurer and independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill, whose trial on fraud charges and misusing Lottery resources to promote his campaign ended in mistrial, has been named president and executive director of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. (Patriot Ledger)
Framingham school officials are facing a staffing “debacle” with potential layoffs looming because of an anticipated cut in federal Title I funding. (MetroWest Daily News)
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Former Boston state rep Marty Walz says the bad sportsmanship shown by the Massachusetts Teachers Association in refusing to recognize National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee smacks of the sort of divisive behavior shown by President Trump. (Education Post)
The chairman of the trustees board at Boston College High School has stepped down as part of a big shake-up of the board after it floated the idea of admitting girls to the all-boys Catholic school. (Boston Globe)
Worcester schools are installing washers and dryers, hoping that clean clothes will make kids want to stay in class. (Telegram & Gazette)
Commuter rail riders are preparing to hop on buses a lot this summer as stretches of track are shut down for repairs and safety initiatives. (Salem News)
The much-cheaper Middleboro route for the South Coast Rail project nudged slightly forward after the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued a certificate for further research to be done on the proposal. (Standard-Times)
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Seven suburbs of Boston complain to the Department of Public Utilities that a rate change proposed by Eversource would hinder their solar development efforts and cost them a collective $1.6 million a year. (CommonWealth)
Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts says Gov. Charlie Baker is all talk and no action on doubling the emissions target under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. (CommonWealth)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the cancellation of a planned international climate summit in the city this summer, citing a lack of federal support for the event. (Boston Globe)
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