A Wisconsin congressman told a town hall attendee who was concerned about the elimination of online privacy protections that using the internet is a choice – a statement that has since drawn criticism on social media.
During the meeting in Wisconsin on Thursday, the attendee asked about the recent decision by Congress to wipe away an Obama-era policy that sought to limit what internet service providers, such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, can do with customers’ internet browsing history. The concern is similar to one raised by consumer activists: Not all internet users have options to switch to a different company if they don’t agree with their current provider’s privacy practices.
“Facebook is not comparable to an ISP. I do not have to go to Facebook,” the town hall attendee told Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. “I do have one provider… . I have one choice. I don’t have to go on Google. My ISP provider is different than those providers.”
In response, Sensenbrenner, who voted to scrap the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules that were set to take effect at the end of this year, said: “Nobody’s got to use the internet. And the thing is that if you start regulating the internet like a utility, if we did that right at the beginning, we would have no internet. Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal service now. The fact is is that, you know, I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make that choice. That’s what the law has been, and I think we ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives.”
The congressman then moved on to the next question.
Brad Bainum, a spokesman for American Bridge, a liberal super PAC, tweeted a video of Sensenbrenner responding to the constituent’s question: “JimPressOffice tells his constituents not to use the internet if they don’t like his vote to sell out their privacy to advertisers.”
Sensenbrenner’s press office responded to the tweet, reiterating the congressman’s comment: “Actually, he said that nobody has to use the internet. They have a choice. Big difference.”
An official from Sensenbrenner’s office said Saturday that the congressman’s point is that people can choose whether or not they want to use certain websites. For instance, in using Facebook, people have the option to agree (or not agree) with its terms of agreement, which covers what kind of information the social media site collects from its users.
The official added that the video clip posted by American Bridge was blown out of proportion and is just a small segment of a town hall meeting.