• Indivisible New Rochelle

Net Neutrality: Protecting Our Privacy

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

While the term "Net Neutrality" has become synonymous with an internet carrier's ability to create fast lanes and slow lanes, our concern is about privacy. It is important to understand that the ability to maintain a fast or a slow lane requires that the carrier process identifying information about sender, the receiver and what is sent. To switch your information into lanes, they read it.

On June 4, members of Indivisible New Rochelle, Indivisible Westchester and Indivisible NY-CD16 wrote and distributed a letter (view letter), asking our State and Local Representatives to author laws to provide for greater privacy protection regarding internet traffic. We have also gotten as far as an actual draft law to propose to Mr. Otis, attached below.

In response to recent attempts by the Trump Administration to overturn Net Neutrality, Governor Cuomo has signed an Executive Order to help protect New Yorkers. The Executive Order that specifies that the State will not do business with internet carriers that don't follow network neutrality, carriers that set up fast lanes and slow lanes and extra charges for some web sites. This is positive, but doesn't go far enough. It doesn't stop carriers—Verizon, Comcast and Optimum—from opening our internet "packets," which is akin to reading our mail, with our individual address, return address, and information inside. Neither does the Senate Congressional Review Act (CRA) telling the FCC to reverse its abandonment of net neutrality. Even if the House passes the CRA, and Trump signs it, a double-long shot, who wants this industry-captured FCC to protect us, without a clear law they must follow?

How the Internet Works

Internet traffic travels in the form of "packets" which traverse the internet in a series of 1's and 0's in much the same way Morse code was translated to readable telegrams.

Your computer only sends and receives ones and zeroes.

Everything you see, send, and download on the internet is in the ones and zeroes code of IP packets, sent to and from your private computer or phone, like mail. An IP packet is as close as you can get to a letter or small package using a string of ones and zeroes, which is why it is called a packet. Your computer and phone each have a unique address, like your home does for mail. IP packets are individually and exclusively addressed, like mail. Everything you get on the internet has your, and only your, personal address on it. Even “live streams.”

Don’t confuse mail-like IP packets with email, which you send and receive via packets to and from your mailbox located “at” (@) a mailbox you have at a third computer, Google’s, or AOL’s for example. You get and send your email @ these mailboxes, using packets in the IP code of ones and zeroes, of course. And yes, they read your mail, but they see nothing like the volume of IP packets your internet carrier can see—it sees everything, from the router in your living room and the phone in your pocket, unless we get a law about that.

IP packets are created inside your computer or phone. There is a tiny telegrapher in there, that takes the text, video, or data you want to send, and wraps it in a packet, and sends it out in the IP ones and zeroes code. And that understands the ones and zeroes you receive on the internet to be packets in the IP code, and unwraps and presents the contents to you. Packets in and out are yours, why should anybody else read them?

These personally-addressed packets sent as 1’s and 0’s in the Internet Protocol code are how we send and get all our internet information, and access to this information is how the carriers hope to make money. With big data processing capacity, they are able to "profile" customers through analytics.

With this level of profiling carriers can sell a lot of toothpaste, and, incidentally, figure out our religion, politics, medical history, and bank accounts. Internet carriers can do this much better than Google or Amazon can, because the carrier sees everything. It is easy to see how access to this level of personal data also has a great deal of value for marketing, e-commerce and political influence campaigns.

What we need is a law that will treat our internet information like our private property, like our mail, for example. On Jan 4 we wrote to our senators and congressperson for a federal law like this:

“Uniquely addressed Internet packets are the private property of the addressee, from the instant they are presented to the carrier network, through delivery to the customer's address. The address, return address, and the contents may not be recorded nor tabulated nor kept by the carrier, nor inferred by external observation, except as temporarily needed for timely delivery.”

The besieged network neutrality we enjoy today, which is due to complex and brittle regulation, would be secured by a straightforward new law: Don't study our private Internet communications, just deliver them.

Click here to view a draft of state law that we have recently proposed to Steve Otis. The highlighted clauses are what we are asking get added to the law. The last line deliberately paraphrases the NY State-law-based privacy rights we receive every day from our local public library: “At the moment that library material is returned to the library, the link between the customer and the material is broken–the system does not retain information on what materials were taken out by whom.” (Westchester Library System employee handbook, p 50). The library knows that we don’t have 1st and 4th Amendment freedoms when somebody, or somebody’s computer, is reading over our shoulder.

Click here to read our letter to the Albany Times Union about the need for this law.

Stay tuned. We will be keeping you informed on Net Neutrality and alerting you of actions you can take to help protect privacy. If you can work to get the attention of voters and lawmakers to bring such a law to fruition, we are forming an Indivisible committee. Please contact Tom at thomas.dargan@gmail.com.