No American value has been challenged more by the rise of the internet than our commitment to personal privacy.
On one hand, the internet generation is the most open in our history, documenting people’s lives through millions of selfies and the sharing of vast troves of information in exchange for a more tailored and affordable internet experience. On the other hand, Americans still recoil from intrusive government surveillance, with 86 percent of internet users saying they sometimes hide their identity or use “incognito” tools. Overall, nine out of 10 Americans believe they have lost control over how their data is collected and used.
The path for achieving a responsible and healthy digital world begins with two foundational conservative principles: that the individual is the fundamental unit of government and that the rights and choices of individuals take primacy over federal and state government. Indeed, it is “We the People” who establish and limit government, and also reserve all non-delegated powers to ourselves.
Getting internet privacy right starts with this core insight: Individuals must be free to determine how they interact with the digital world, and government must not dictate their choices, options or beliefs.
That’s why the patchwork of supposed “privacy” bills being introduced in states around the country, such as Assembly Bill 375 here in California, are so fundamentally misguided. Rather than empower consumers to make informed choices, these laws arbitrarily choose for us. This creates the worst of all possible worlds, undermining citizens’ control of their data while still exposing them to massive privacy gaps and risks.
One of the worst aspects of the California bill is that it applies only to part of the internet, covering broadband providers but ignoring many of the most aggressive and pervasive users of data online, including the big search, social media and application firms.
That is government picking winners and losers in a critical area of modern life, and doing it so irrationally that it will only confuse and disempower individuals. No one will be able to keep track of this patchwork regulatory morass, and the result will be a privacy mirage — where citizens think their data is protected, when, in fact, it is not.
Ultimately, by denying broadband providers the ability to offer low-cost or ad-supported services while giving free rein to others to monetize the data, the legislation will result in…