Ethical Hackers raise money to help repeal bill reducing internet privacy

History junior Wania Uddin (left) and biology sophomore Hira Ali speak with Christopher Franson, the president of Ethical Hackers, at the organization's first fundraise. Photo by Ruth Varghese | Mercury Staff.

A UTD group called Ethical Hackers is donating the profits from its first annual fundraiser to protest a federal bill overturning previous Federal Communications Commission regulations protecting consumer privacy.

On April 19, Christopher Franson, an information technology and systems junior and president of Ethical Hackers, raised $66 at the organization’s fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“What’s happening with Joint Resolution 86 is it allows internet service providers to go ahead and sell anything and everything you touch, type, do, whatever you view on the internet to companies,” Franson said.

The resolution still has several steps to go before it can become a law. Franson said this legislation would violate consumer privacy.

“It’s kind of like telling a friend a secret and hoping that in giving them all the power and let them completely look at you and decide whether they want to tell people or not, all the secrets,” he said. “But (if the) legislation is passed, it’s allowing that person that you told all those things to just sell that information to whoever they want.”

Although H.J. 86 has not been passed, a companion bill in the Senate which had similar contents regarding consumer privacy was signed into law April 3.

Ethical Hackers was founded in January 2017. Franson said he and a friend liked to meet up to learn how to hack. After realizing that what they were doing is illegal, they decided they wanted to create a group where they could hack legally and ethically.

“The more we got into it, it was kind of like a game of Monopoly, there was a lot of different pieces and you have to learn how to play it, there’s little red hotels, green houses, there’s money. You can go to jail, you can get in trouble,” Franson said.

Lauren Perez, an information technology and systems sophomore, and an officer for Ethical Hackers, said hacking can be used as a way to protect yourself.

“I think a big part of it is just to change the perception of hacking. There’s a lot of a negative connotation with it. It’s really not like that,” Perez said. “It’s just good to know the way to protect yourself against things out there and just how to use computers in a very strategic way.”

Ethical Hackers teaches its members how to protect themselves through hacking and wants to make others aware of how to deal with the proposed legislation. Franson said while waiting for the H.J. Res 86 to be passed or not, it is important to inform people about the bill and how to fight it and protect their privacy. If the bill does not pass, the ACLU will still use the funds for legal fees.

Privacy is important and this legislation potentially takes that away, Perez said. A future employer could see what someone has ever searched on the internet and if he or she disagrees with it, the employer may not hire the person. Perez said people can contact their internet service providers to opt-out of this collection of data.

“You get on Facebook and they know you’re on Facebook, you Google search a recipe and they know what you’re cooking. They know your home location. It’s just not safe for everyone to know all that information,” Perez said. “You don’t want to be the product and that’s what this legislation makes you. It makes you a product and they’re selling you.”

One of the important things about the fundraiser is informing others about the legislation and how to protect themselves by handing out fliers and talking to the people who stopped by, Franson said.

“It’s good to see people getting behind a cause and taking a moment to slow down and examine what’s going on in the world,” he said. “It’s a national issue, so I think to bring it to a local level and get attention on it especially here at UT Dallas, we’re so wrapped up in other things, it’s very important.”

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