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Editorial: Republicans schemed to undo internet privacy protections

Here’s more proof – as if any were needed – that in government, the wishes of favored interests take precedence over those of constituents. Specifically, does anyone remember a public cry for Congress to deprive Americans of their internet privacy?

It never happened, which explains why the House, the Senate and President Trump moved so furtively to empower a handful of big businesses at the direct expense of American internet users. It was a sickening display of American government at its worst.

With Republicans controlling the White House and holding majorities in Congress, the party moved swiftly this year to undo rules enacted late in the Obama administration. Those rules required only that internet providers get users’ consent before gathering customers’ data and selling it to third parties. That data includes browsing histories, the locations of businesses they physically visit and the mobile applications they use.

Providers didn’t like that rule for the most obvious of reasons: That data is easily monetized into a digital windfall. Big consumers of that data, including Facebook and Google, also benefit from routine collection of that information, since they can then target advertising to users who are shopping for cars or ceiling fans or clothing.

The bottom line is this: The Obama administration openly sided with consumers while Congress and the Trump administration sidled up to those who are eager to get their hands on users’ private information.

And to make matters worse, Congress and Trump clearly understood beforehand how unpopular their action would be. They knew Americans didn’t want it. That’s why they went about their work so gingerly, hoping to slip it through unnoticed. Only this week did the machinations behind that abusive maneuver become public, thanks to diligent reporting by the Washington Post.

As the story published in Wednesday’s editions of The Buffalo News showed, leadership in the House and Senate colluded to identify the most surreptitious way to move this dirty legislation through Congress and to the president. The clandestine strategy was for the Senate to approve the bill while the country was focused on the House’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It did. Five days later, the House approved the measure and sent it to Trump, who signed it in early April without ceremony or public comment.

Those Americans who were watching protested immediately. Why wouldn’t they? Congress and the president – the one who was going to drain the swamp and stand up for the little guy – had schemed to make sure that Americans got the dirty end of the stick. Officials moved, deliberately and secretively, to take away reasonable protections consumers had been given in favor of powerful interests that want to make money off Americans’ internet habits.

Republicans are not alone in serving special interests over the public good, of course. In Albany, for example, Democrats are well practiced at jumping through hoops for labor unions. This assault on Americans’ privacy is just the most recent example and it’s egregious.

This isn’t draining the swamp. It’s throwing your constituents into it. And then holding them under.

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