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Campaigners seek ‘to sell US politicians’ browsing data’

House speaker and Republican Paul RyanImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Supporters of one campaign said they would most like to see House Speaker Paul Ryan’s internet history

The organisers of two privacy campaigns say they plan to buy, then sell, the internet browsing histories of some of America’s best-known politicians.

But experts said the schemes were doomed to fail.

The campaigners are protesting against a congress vote to repeal a key internet privacy law earlier this week.

They said the SJR34 resolution, which would let companies continue to sell user data without their consent, would infringe people’s privacy.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the order soon.

One campaign, run by Adam McElhaney, has raised $146,732 (£117,698) in four days on the crowd-funding platform GoFundMe – 9,648 people have made donations.

Mr McElhaney said he planned to “turn the tables” on all of those who had voted to ditch the law.

‘Available for everyone’

“I plan on purchasing the internet histories of all legislators, congressmen, executives, and their families and making them easily searchable at [my website] searchinternethistory.com,” he said

“Anything they have looked at, searched for, or visited on the internet will now be available for everyone to comb through,” he added.

Mr McElhaney’s site is also inviting votes on which politician’s data should be purchased first, with Speaker of the House and Republican Paul Ryan topping the list.

Another campaign, run by actor Misha Collins, has raised $62,000 towards a $500m target.

He said: “Since congress has made our privacy a commodity, let’s band together to buy their privacy,”

“This GoFundMe [campaign] will pay to purchase the data of Donald Trump and every congressperson who voted for SJR34, and to make it publicly available.”

‘Individually identifiable’

But several reports suggested the plans were technically illegal.

The US Telecommunications Act prohibits the sharing of “individually identifiable” customer information except under specific circumstances.

Marketers may access user browsing data, but only in aggregate, for the purposes of targeted advertising.

And internet service providers (ISPs) would suffer huge brand damage if they sold off identifiable personal data.

Mike Masnick, founder of the Techdirt blog, said: “Here’s the real problem: you can’t buy congress’s internet data.

“You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works.”

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Obama-era law, which required ISPs to obtain permission before sharing personal information – including location data.

The law was set to take effect at the end of this year.

Supporters of the move to repeal the law said it would increase competition, but critics said it would have a “chilling effect” on online privacy.

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