European proponents of network neutrality have added privacy concerns to their call for government regulation of the Internet, an argument identified as a red herring by opponents of the rules.
In “Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor [EDPS] on Net Neutrality, Traffic Management and the Protection of Privacy and Personal Data,” released in October, EDPS Peter Hustinx asserts a lack of network neutrality regulations on the Internet may result in a “scenario where ISPs [Internet service providers] engage on a routine basis in traffic management policies offering subscriptions based on filtering access to content and applications, [which] would be highly problematic. If this were ever to happen, legislation would need to be put in place to address this situation.”
Seton Motley, president of LessGovernment.org, says the only privacy threat on the Internet comes from governments. “I give private companies my info voluntarily,” he said. “Most people do. You are volunteering that info, so no problem,” he said.
However, he notes, “If the private company turns right around and gives your info to the government—big problem. If the government forces the private company to give them your info—big problem. So for these folks to argue that inserting the government into the Internet is a way—they assert the only way—to protect privacy is patently absurd.”
Mired in Challenges
The European Union took a wait-and-see approach toward adopting net neutrality regulations in November 2010, declaring existing rules precluded the need for more stringent mandates. “We have to avoid regulation which might deter investment and an efficient use of the available resources,” EU Telecommunications Commissioner Neelie Kroes told the European Parliament at the time.
“I believe that any content or application that is legal and which does not cause undue congestion or otherwise harm other users or network integrity should be fully accessible,” Kroes said, adding there should be no “must carry obligation” for ISPs.
Under EU rules, regulators establish minimum levels of bandwidth for ISPs.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, on the other hand, passed net neutrality regulations on December 23, 2010. Adoption of the rules, scheduled for November 20 of this year, is mired in legislative and legal challenges.
Government Only Privacy Threat
“Any discrimination between Internet services, protocols, sources or contents imposed by telecom operators inevitably hurts the confidentiality of communications,” wrote Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson of the European citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, which supports net neutrality.
“Privacy issues are a diversionary tactic disingenuously employed by net neutrality advocates to distract attention from the many arguments against it,” said Jim Lakely, co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute, which also publishes InfoTech & Telecom News. “These include the real-world negative impacts it would inflict on investment and jobs.”
In noting government as more of a threat to Internet privacy than ISPs, Motley cites the rising ability of law enforcement and other agencies to access citizens’ private online activity. The only privacy rules he would impose on the Internet are, “Don’t let the government have my info; don’t let the government force private companies to hand over my info; and private companies shouldn’t give my info to government without a warrant,” he says.
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.
“Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on Net Neutrality, Traffic Management and the Protection of Privacy and Personal Data,” European Data Protection Supervisor, October 7, 2011:http://news.heartland.org/sites/default/files/11-10-07_Net_neutrality_EN.pdf
“No Privacy Without Net Neutrality,” La Quadrature du Net: Internet & Libertes, http://www.laquadrature.net/en/no-privacy-without-net-neutrality