Editorial: Rep. Kevin Yoder distinguishing himself as an advocate for internet privacy

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is cultivating a record of working for consumers’ digital privacy protections.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is cultivating a record of working for consumers’ digital privacy protections. The Star

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is fighting the good fight to keep private the websites you visit, the apps you use and the content you view online.

Yoder broke ranks this week and sided with 190 Democrats (and 14 Republicans) when he voted against allowing internet providers to snoop on users and sell their personal online history. The Kansas Republican rightly favored requiring broadband companies to get a person’s permission before profiting off intimate data, including browser searches, use of apps and a user’s location.

While the vote broke down largely along party lines, Yoder resisted playing partisan politics and instead tried to do right by his constituents. The majority of Yoder’s GOP colleagues supported the use of a congressional maneuver that allows for a fast-tracked vote to undo the previous administration’s policy shortly after a new president takes office.

Some members of Congress surely acted without thinking about the ramifications for the people they represent. Too often, that’s a reflexive GOP response when considering anything labeled with the poison tag “Obama-era policy.”

Here’s the rub: Yoder lost this battle. The measure passed 215-205 in the House and 50-48 in the Senate.

The Obama administration’s internet privacy regulations hadn’t gone into effect. That was scheduled to happen later this year. The rule was passed by the Federal Communications Commission last October on a 3-2 vote.

The FCC was trying to protect consumers from the targeted marketing that unleashes a deluge of advertisements for similar products anytime you search for something online.

Well, brace for more. Without the constraints envisioned by the FCC, providers such as AT&T, Comcast and others can gobble up data, package it without your permission and sell it to advertisers who want to reach you. They’re already doing some of this.

Now, without restrictions on gathering personal data, the practice likely will escalate. Just because people use broadband technology doesn’t mean that all of their information should be up for grabs.

Yoder understands this. He has become a reliable advocate for protecting consumers’ digital privacy, and he has sought to update laws to reflect changing technology.

In February, Yoder was successful in getting the House to unanimously pass the Email Privacy Act, a bill he’s been pushing for several years. The legislation would require government agencies to obtain a warrant to search people’s emails, regardless of when the email was written. It is intended to close a loophole in a 1986 law that gave the government the right to search without a warrant if an email was older than 180 days and was stored on a third-party server, like Google or Yahoo.

In pitching the legislation, Yoder conjured up his 10-year-old self, noting that was his age when the original law passed.

A young Yoder couldn’t fathom how vast the World Wide Web would grow or imagine his privacy concerns as a member of Congress.

Back then, Yoder said he was “hoping to get a new Nintendo game console for Christmas so I could play Super Mario Bros. You could buy a ticket to see ‘Top Gun’ for $2.75. In the tech world, 1986 marked the debut of the first laptop computer. It was 12 pounds. A mobile phone was the size of a small pet.”

Fortunately, that Nintendo-loving kid is now a member of Congress focused on protecting your online privacy.