Colorado 6th District U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman broke with his Republican caucus colleagues this week to vote against a bill that would allow internet companies to sell user data, including user browsing histories.
“I believe the privacy of my constituents, and other internet users, is an issue where the government needs to tread very carefully,” he was quoted in a statement. “I do not believe we should permit private corporations to take advantage of our information for their use and profit. The right to privacy is embedded in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and as a person who tries to honor our Constitution, I chose to oppose the resolution as a reaffirmation in my belief in our founding document.”
All of the Colorado Republicans on Capitol Hill voted in favor of allowing internet companies to sell your data without your consent, except Coffman, who represents the top congressional swing district in the state. Coffman joined 14 other Republican House members in opposing the bill.
Sen. Flake’s S.J. Res. 34 would have reversed a 2016 Federal Communications Commission ban on selling user data without consent. The bill was sponsored by Arizona Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake. No Democrats voted for the bill.
Internet browsing histories are corporate gold in the information age, which is partly why most people believe user data needs to be protected.
Simply Google about certain kinds of cancer and your internet company could sell that information to your health insurance company who will want to either drop your coverage or raise your rates. Your internet company can sell the same information to drug makers and hospitals and doctors looking for desperate patients to turn into clients.
“The only people who seem to want to [lift the ban] are the people who are going to make lots of money from it,” wrote T.C. Sotteck at The Verge. Sotteck rounded up campaign donation data tied to some of those people — telecommunications companies and their employees — and looked at how much they gave in the last couple election cycles to the lawmakers who voted in favor of Sen. Flake’s bill.
Sen. Cory Gardner is listed as having received $95,023; Rep. Doug Lamborn, $28,400; Rep. Scott Tipton, $23,500; and Rep. Ken Buck, $15,750.
Rep. Coffman, incidentally, received $13,000 from one telecom group alone — the National Cable and Telecommunications Association — in 2014 and again in 2016, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Of course, when it comes to the billions of dollars being spent in politics today, money donated to campaigns is in some ways just the tip of the iceberg. Money pays for lobbying efforts, think-tank position papers, legal fees, all-expense paid “influencer” junkets, and so on.
“Washington is a city of relationships. Money helps build those relationships and convince lawmakers to adopt certain points of view,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “But campaign contributions don’t hurt — and they come with the implicit idea that there’s more of it that can be used to pay for future campaigns.”
“Companies that spend money on politics do it for a reason and that’s to increase their bottom line,” Toro said.