A new browser tool will now allow citizens to monitor the online activities of federal government employees, including elected officials.
Created by North Carolina software engineer Matt Feld, the plugin will allow website administrators to track when someone has accessed their website from a government associated IP address—whether it’s from Congress, the White House, or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Feld decided to build the tool to protest a “congressional disapproval” of privacy regulations, Senate Joint Resolution 34 (S.J. Res. 34), which in April opened the door for internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast or Verizon, to collect and sell information to third parties about their customers’ internet use. ISPs will be able to do this without requiring a customer’s explicit prior approval or knowledge.
President Donald Trump signed off on the rule change, bringing an end to the Obama administration’s privacy protection rules.
There was significant backlash against the vote from privacy activists and the public in general.
“Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, but it didn’t take long for the swamp to drain him, the only people in the United States who want less internet privacy are CEOs and lobbyists for giant telecom companies who want to rake in money by spying on all of us and selling the private details of our lives to marketing companies,” Evan Greer, director of internet rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement.
Feld has founded several nonprofit organizations, with this latest technical project under the banner of Speak Together.
Speaking to Motherboard, he said he wished “to reduce the opaqueness between government and people… It was born out of just me trying to get involved and finding the process to be confusing.”
Although it would be virtually impossible to identify individual lawmakers from just their IP addresses, the plugin will publish the gathered data on government browsing habits to the public.