Congress Is Home These Next Two Weeks. Will Members Hear from You?

United States  (EFF) – Starting today, Congress is closed for the next two weeks so members of Congress can be home. That means if you want to tell your member of Congress how you feel on any specific topic, such as your thoughts on the repeal of your broadband privacy rights or the upcoming debate on network neutrality, you have enormous opportunities that will not last long.

Hearing directly from constituents is the most direct way to influence a member of Congress to change his or her vote as well as highlight issues that are critical to you. These next two weeks present a special opportunity to attend a town hall or district event near you. If you can’t make the time to talk to your legislator or his staff in the next two weeks then make a plan to voice your opinion in the coming months. We’ve written this guide on how best to communicate your voice to Congress.

How to Find Out Where to Meet Your Member of Congress

The best way to meet your federal Representative is to contact the local office by phone and ask where you can meet your elected official. The staff is in a position to inform you where you can meet them because they are given the schedule for their time back home. Most times, this will be at a town hall or at a district event where the member of Congress will provide an update on current events and take questions. Other times, it will be at an event in the district where they deliver a keynote address and stay afterwards to talk to constituents. You should also consider subscribing to the online newsletters of your House member, as well as your state’s two senators, since they often email their local events directly to constituents and subscribers.

Tell Them You Opposed the Broadband Privacy Repeal

Congress was nearly evenly split on whether or not to keep your broadband privacy rights, with 50 votes in favor of repeal against 48 in the Senate and 215 in favor with 205 against in the House. That means the final vote ultimately came down to just eight votes in total (three in the Senate and five in the House). Ultimately, forcing Congress to correct its course would require flipping a very small number of those who sided with the cable and telephone industry over the Internet and Americans who use it.

Some in Congress are staunchly defending their vote by relying on myths or persuasive sounding—but ultimately superficial—claims that their votes to strip the FCC of jurisdiction perversely supported your right to privacy.

For example, expect to hear proponents of repeal to argue that the FTC is better situated than the FCC to handle privacy. It may be confusing to hear that the cable and telephone industry also prefer the FTC, until you find out that the Federal Trade Commission may not have the legal power to do anything: in 2016 AT&T’s lawyers were successful in prompting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to declare that the FTC cannot enforce privacy law on cable and telephone companies because they are common carriers. When lawyers working for the cable and telephone industry attempt to replicate that legal victory across the country in the coming years it will render any contemporary push for FTC oversight really a play for no oversight.

So make no mistake: when you hear from your elected official about how great the FTC is and how they voted to help the FCC become the primary agency in charge of privacy, the fact of the matter is they voted to hamstring the only federal agency that has direct and explicit legal authority to oversee the activities of the cable and telephone industry—the FCC.

The other common refrain from proponents was voting to “level the playing field” because some members of Congress entertain the notion that your social media and email is on the same footing as your cable or telephone company. This ignores the fact that a majority of Americans have only one choice for high speed broadband access, in comparison to many choices among social media and email platforms. This false equivalence between dramatically different industry sectors was contrived by a narrative created by the cable and telephone lobby years ago. Moreover, the FCC is legally restricted to apply privacy protections to just cable and telephone companies because Congress wrote the law to apply to them due to their special position in the market. It has long been a legal tradition that communications platforms (in the past telephone, now broadband) are required to keep private information you disclose when you use the service confidential unless you grant it permission otherwise.

Cable and telephone companies have long wanted to remove legal restrictions that, for decades, had prevented them from selling your personal information to third parties. First, the Internet services you utilize typically do not charge you money, whereas you more than compensate your cable and telephone company with monthly subscription fees.

Tell Them to Protect Internet Freedom

Just last week, it was reported that the new FCC Chairman met with the cable and telephone industry to discuss how best to hand over the Internet to them. According to media accounts, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai intends to surrender the Internet to the cable and telephone industry by no longer enforcing net neutrality protections under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

The worst part about this plan is the FCC intends to do it in exchange for the cable and telephone industry promising they will not actively harm the free and open Internet for their corporate gain. Do you trust your cable and telephone company to not prioritize their own interests over yours?

Image Source – Pixabay

Not only are these “promises” dubious as a legal matter, they cannot be held to keeping them once the FCC surrenders. Worst yet, no federal agency will be able to do anything about their activities. It is not surprising that this is the kind of plan that would be the product of a meeting with only cable and telephone executives. Since the FCC Chairman appears to be heading down a very destructive course of action for the free and open Internet, we need to mobilize to pressure Congress to push back on the FCC.

Here is what you need to do to pressure your elected represented to push back on the FCC plan:

  1. Call your Member of Congress, plus your state’s two Senators.
  2. Explain that you are a constituent, that you want to hear your Representative (or Senator) speak while home from Washington, and that you’d like the time & place for any town halls scheduled this week.
  3. Also ask to whom you should address a letter seeking a meeting with a staffer after this week’s recess is over.
  4. Recruit at least two neighbors, friends, or colleagues who live in your congressional district to join you.
  5. Attend a town hall, and ask a question of the speaker (ideally while an ally records video). Ask why they want ISPs to have the power to sell your browsing history, and whether they want to force the FCC to hand the Internet over to Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
  6. Publish your video online and share it through social media and encourage your friends to participate.
  7. If your group of local allies remains fired up and wants to do more, explore the Electronic Frontier Alliance.

Congress as a whole shares responsibility for overseeing and funding the activities of federal agencies. That power offers frequent opportunities to assert influence over the agencies’ plans. That means in the coming months as we fight back on terrible ideas from the FCC, it becomes imperative that you enlist your elected officials as defenders of a free and open Internet and make it explicit that it would be unacceptable for the FCC to stand down in the face of self-serving demands from cable and telephone companies.

This report prepared by Ernesto Falcon for Electronic Frontier Foundation