Bridge Span 17-5: A FCC Message of Hope?

Much has already been made, with more yet to come, about President Trump’s first one hundred days in office. Love him or not, love the accomplishments or not, even a cursory review of the last few months show a dogged determination to roll back the regulatory state. Today, in a highly anticipated speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, could be the day of another very real move to enhance liberty and improve opportunities for all citizens.

As reported in Politico, “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has two speeches lined up this week, including one on Wednesday where he’s expected to address the future of internet regulations and his vision for revamping the net neutrality rules.” Given the screaming by the anti-freedom crowd you wouldn’t be blamed for believing that the talk today is a harbinger of doom.

Hopefully it is doom, the extinction of the bizarrely named “net neutrality” restrictions. As one of the best examples of government hyper micro-management of imagined potential future concern, reversing the so-called “Open Internet Oder” should be priority one. The rules were never about solving a problem, or fixing a broken process. Instead the heavy handed regulations have been only about placing one of the most innovative, vibrant sectors of the U.S. economy in the unrelenting grip of government control. So, lovers of government constriction have warned of dire consequences for consumers if net neutrality is even modified much less removed.

The truth is much different. Changing or even “overturning” the rules is merely a restoration of the free and open internet, restoring an internet that once again includes a light regulatory touch while staying out of the way of progress, innovation and invention. All the bizarrely titled “net neutrality” rules did was to layer in costs, adding gratuitous restrictions that limit innovation and the necessary continued investment to bring consumers better, faster internet service. In other words, the rules are anti-consumer. No harm was ended because no harm was ever claimed. No freedoms were given, in fact liberty was reduced. The easy to see, honest, bottom-line? Consumers lost.

Of course some businesses, and pro-regulatory groups, did gain by the institution of the arcane new rules. When any regulation or law is put in place, business operations grow up around it resulting in winners and losers. But that is not a reason to perpetuate poor public policy. Moreover, the rule was only approved in 2015 and under constant legal attack since then. The notion that industries have built up in that little time, in the midst of uncertainty, is a stretch. The real reason that businesses have grown that are dependent on internet service providers providing stable, fast broadband is actually because of the competitive marketplace. This is to say that consumers required internet providers to create a consistent, quality and open system to retain them as customers. Are customers likely to stay with a company that intentionally blocks access to its service? Hardly.

No one should mistake that there is anything but near unanimous belief amongst all political tribes that an open Internet should exist. No advocacy group, political party, industry or consumer group is advocating for consumer harm. Arguments to the contrary are not just fake news but out and out falsehoods. Government restriction and control of the internet is by definition, not an open internet. Inarguably, the best way to preserve an open internet is precisely how an open internet has been preserved for this long, via the free market. That is how consumers will continue to be protected, and how consumers will continuously benefit from the innovation, investment and creation that follows. Hopefully this will be Commissioner Pai’s message of an optimistic future given today.

Bridge Span 17-7: The False Choice of Security and Privacy

Discussions about personal privacy and government surveillance commonly end in a false choice.
Often someone offers that the government can watch them all they want and gather all the information the government may desire, because the person proudly asserts that they have no reason to be worried as they are not criminals and have done nothing wrong. Or they argue, that since government collects so much data about people already what’s a little bit more? To say that these responses miss the point is an understatement and leaves one to wonder if the commentator would be so cavalier about protections U.S. citizens enjoy in which they interested in partaking. Even a casual observer should understand that a constitutional protection checking government’s power, the search warrant, does not deserve to be dismissed so lightly. Our guaranteed protections can allow us to be secure and have our privacy.
This flippancy about our rights will face a very real challenge as the Supreme Court has agreed to decide exactly how much privacy Americans are afforded where mobile phone tracking data is concerned. The question is simple, should a search warrant be required before the government can demand information from mobile phone companies to determine the user’s past locations? The fundamental question is how easy should it be for government to collect data, and specifically location data, about us?
Location data can reveal a great deal about someone especially as smartphones are often tracking our whereabouts without our knowledge. Lower courts have said that a warrant is not required because the information is “voluntarily” shared by users with third parties, such as telephone companies or app providers. But a phone’s location can be revealed because a network identifies a mobile phone location when a call is made to the phone even if the call is not answered. Just because someone has phone is no indication they want their location known. The citizen’s choice then is to surrender their security to gain their privacy. The future will be more challenging. As technology advances, smaller cell sites are becoming more prevalent, and with smaller cell sites typically comes a small range, a more precise location generally measured in feet instead of miles.
The reality of digital age life makes the notion of voluntary sharing of information outdated. Taken together, the amount of information being provided and the ever-increasing precision of the exact location, we must come to understand that this is not part of some routine investigation and gathering of general information. Simply said, the use of a mobile device is completely different than dialing from the corner payphone forty years ago.
Having this much data about a person is in effect a search. The public already understands the difference. As found by the Harris Interactive poll, 77 percent of phone users did not want to share their location data with app users. This is personal information, and a warrant should be required.
The argument is not that this information should be locked away under all circumstances. Rather, as is normal and expected, the government should be required to show they have reason to believe, probable cause to believe, a crime was or is being committed. Should our digital records not have the same protections we afford their analog cousins? In fact, digital records, given their very nature of abundance, detail and automation should likely be afforded more protection that records from the past.
While Congress has yet to step in to clarify the laws, the state legislatures and lower courts have been busy with seven states already requiring a warrant for all location information, and several other states protecting some location information. But those state laws could be in jeopardy depending on how the Supreme Court rules.
Continuing to dilute our protections from a potentially abusive government is untenable. Do we really want people to have to choose between protecting their guaranteed privacy and ensuring their safety?

The answer is simple, government should not be able to do as it pleases without restraint, with checks and balances on its power. Let’s all hope the Supreme Court agrees.

Bridge Cables 17-1: Tax Reform Should Address Privacy Risks, Why the Federal GSA Has No Business Competing With the Private Sector, Progress on Telemedicine in the States

Lately, Madery Bridge writing has appeared in other places.  Take a look!:

Institute for Policy Innovation – “Tax Reform Should Address Privacy Risks”

“This interest [of politicians in tax returns] is not just about the money. A person’s tax return has a wealth of information about them because the disclosure is required by the law. This very personal information can then be plucked from the form without any benefit of understanding or context.”

Read more here

American Legislative Exchange Council – “Why the Federal GSA Has No Business Competing With the Private Sector”

“Over the last couple decades, the steady stream of new information technologies and more general innovations has continued to amaze and delight. With these creations and opportunities appearing broadly in the press and the companies behind them heralded as heroes, one should not be surprised that now technology and the opportunities it delivers are part of the fabric of popular culture. And with technology being overtly interwoven into life, many want to be part of the excitement but sometimes in inappropriate ways.”

Read more here

Institute for Policy Innovation – “Progress on Telemedicine in the States”

“Across the country, states have been innovating with health care by removing restrictions to telemedicine, or telehealth, thereby lowering costs for citizens and making access easier. Some states have been willing to move further and faster in allowing patients and doctors the options and freedoms provided by greater use of technology in medicine.”

Read more here