Is the $200K Crowdfunding Campaign to Get Lawmakers’ Browsing Histories a Scam?

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By Emily Zanotti | 2:51 pm, March 30, 2017

A group of protesters are firing back at Congress for what they say is an unprecedented intrusion into Internet privacy—a bill that authorizes Internet Service Providers to collect and sell data on groups of users. As revenge, the protesters have raised $200,000 for a program that would purchase and reveal the browsing history of any legislator who voted for the bill.

The problem? Their “punishment” is actually illegal—and donors to the campaigns should beware.

The theory behind their protest is this: If Congress wants to authorize ISPs to collect and sell their users’ browsing histories, Congress shouldn’t feel bad when their browsing histories are made public.

To that end, three separate campaigns—from the founder of Cards Against Humanity, television star Misha Collins, and a privacy advocate from Tennessee—have indicated they’ll find and publish the records.

At least one – the Tennessee campaign – has raised plenty of money to “buy” Congressional browsing histories from Congress’ own ISP. Cards Against Humanity’s founder says he’ll take care of the cost himself.

But there’s one problem: Federal law specifically prevents the sharing, selling or marketing of any “individually identifiable” browsing history, and recent votes in Congress don’t change that, because they pertain to bulk data.

Even sites like Facebook and Google (which aren’t covered under the new FCC rules and regularly peddle collected information, including browser histories, to the highest bidders) sell user records and profiles as large groups of data, typically to marketing analytics firms, but don’t give out individual profiles.

That means these “privacy advocates” are trying to unlawfully invade other peoples’ privacy.

As The Verge points out, “if you’re paying Verizon to find out which sites Paul Ryan visited last month, that’s pretty clearly individual information, and pretty clearly illegal to sell.”

So, it’s not immediately clear what these guys are doing with the Internet’s money, but it’s not paying to find out whether specific legislators buy underwear and pay for Internet porn while they’re supposed to be gearing up for roll call votes.

The furor over the bill itself seems to be overblown as well. Republicans voted to force an Obama-era FCC rule preventing ISPs from selling bulk data on their users—that have barely been in effect six months—into Congressional review. And probably rightfully so, as even President Obama’s FCC officials were confused by them.