New internet privacy rules won't impact local ISP customers

by Perry Backus, Ravalli Republic

New rules that allow internet service providers to collect and share their client’s information with a third party won’t change a thing for customers of smaller ISPs like Stevensville-based Rocky Mountain Internet.

“None of our client’s information is ever exposed to the outside world,” said Martha Weifenberger, who owns the ISP with her husband, Terry.

On Monday, President Donald Trump approved a resolution that repealed protections requiring internet service providers to seek permission from their customers before collecting and sharing data.

Those protections were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration, but had yet to go into effect. Under the Obama administration’s proposed rules, internet providers would have been required to notify customers about the types of information collected and shared.

Supporters of the repeal say the protections created an unfair playing field between internet service providers and tech companies such as Facebook and Yahoo. The tech companies already collect data from users without asking for permission.

The decision to repeal the Obama administration rules was supported by Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana.

In an email, Daines’ office said that since the rules were never implemented, consumers are not at a greater risk now, nor will their online privacy suddenly be sold on the market.

The recently passed resolution will allow the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to work together to create a consistent set of privacy rules that does not favor one industry over the other. In the meantime, Daines’ office said there are federal and state rules in place to continue to protect consumer’s privacy.

“As someone who spent 12 years at a cloud computing company, Steve understands the power that big data holds and wants to ensure Montana’s Fourth Amendment rights are protected,” said Katie Waldman of Daines’ office. “We need smart policy that encourages innovation and protects consumers – not more regulations by unchecked government agencies. Steve’s priority is always Montanans’ privacy and he will continue to put that first.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Jon Tester took to the Senate floor to slam Congress for passing the legislation that he said violates civil liberties and presents the latest threat to Montanans’ right to privacy.

“This bill allows companies to sell your data, snoop through your search history, and track the sites you visit,” Tester said on the Senate floor. “It allows internet companies to profit by invading your privacy and it gives them the ability to collect and sell your physical location, information about our children, your social security number, and your web browsing history.”

Tester said Montanans have the right to question the priorities of those who supported the bill.

“Everyone has a fundamental right to privacy and the government shouldn’t be in the business of violating individual rights,” Tester said. “Especially when they are doing the bidding of big companies looking to make more profits at the expense of your privacy. I want it to be known that Montanans don’t want anyone snooping around in their private lives, neither the government nor corporations.”

Montana is one of several states that has begun writing its own legislation to protect broadband privacy after Congress voted to repeal the regulations.

Montana state Sen. Ryan Osmundson, R-Buffalo, introduced a measure Monday that would bar internet providers like Charter and Comcast from being awarded state contracts if they collect data from their customers without consent.

Minnesota and Illinois area also consider legislation to address the broadband internet privacy issue.

“It has become apparent to us that they have the ability to use your information in ways to market to you, and, quite frankly, sell that information,” Osmundson said of the internet providers, according to the Associated Press. “We’re basically saying they cannot do business with the state if they’re collecting personal information without the consent of the individual.”

For smaller companies like Rocky Mountain Internet, the decision doesn’t change anything in the way they do business.

“I think that all of the local homegrown ISPs have the same desire to keep their client base as secure as possible when it comes to privacy,” Weifenberger said. “Our customers can assume that we are their firewall and head gate.”

The world is a different place since the advent of the internet, she said. There are many ways that personal information can be compromised if people aren’t careful.

“Just look at the mess at Facebook,” she said. “Everyone’s accounts are getting hacked…when you get outside your normal day-to-day activities and look for a more global approach, you have to be careful that you don’t leave breadcrumbs that will bring someone back to your doorstep.

“We’re constantly battling that negative side of people trying to get in the backdoor,” she said. “It’s just like life. There’s good with the bad. You have to stay vigilant.”