On Tuesday, March 28, 2017, the US House of Representatives passed Senate Joint Resolution 34, this resolution will allow internet service providers to sell users’ private browsing data to third party organizations and advertisers.
This bill will end the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s rules protecting users’ browsing data, considered a large blow to internet privacy by activists.
Last year, at the FCC, the Obama administration passed legislation that would require that internet service providers ask for customer’s explicit consent before sharing information such as geographical location, browsing history, or health information with other companies. The rules also set standards for broadband providers to protect user information they collect and store.
The rules also involved set requirements for how and when companies could inform you if your data was stolen.
Republicans and providers of high-speed Internet services strongly opposed those rules and argued that restrictions according to the rules are tougher than those for websites and social networks that can collect and use the consumer data. Often, companies use this data to target advertising.
Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) sponsored the repeal bill and gave her thoughts on the subject.
“These broadband privacy rules are unnecessary and are just another example of big government overreach,” Blackburn said in a report by the Los Angeles Times.
The new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, strongly opposed privacy rules and voted against them last October during his time as a commissioner. In the last month, he stopped part of the privacy rules that would have required ISPs to, as Business Insider quoted: “engage in reasonable data security practices.”
According to Business Insider, Pai feels as though the privacy rules unfairly target internet service providers and give companies online the ability to freely use more consumer data and dominate digital advertising. Though these websites are still regulated by looser guidelines according to the FTC and are not forced to obtain consent before collecting and selling data. This is why ads personalized to your browsing history are shown when you browse the web.
In a joint statement, Pai and Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen spoke about the FCC’s data security halt last month.
“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency,” Pai and Ohlhausen said. “Until that happens, however, we will work together on harmonizing the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for other companies in the digital economy.”
Pai claims that if the privacy rules were reversed, the FCC would still be able to regulate ISP privacy policies using certain aspects of Title II of the Communications Act. Those regulations are considered less strict than Obama-era regulatories, but do not consider web-browsing or app-usage data.
Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) President David Williams shared a statement in favour of the act to repeal the former FCC regulations. He feels as though the internet should not be governed by governmentally provided rules.
“In reality, this is just another avenue designed to give the FCC more control over the internet that should be open,” Williams said.
Doubts over whether the FTC has the authority to regulate ISP privacy practices have also arisen due to an appeals-court decision last year that claimed a company was exempt from FTC oversight because it has been labeled a “common carrier” by section five of the net neutrality act. “Common carrier” means that it is a common ISP, this title was also set for all ISPs through the 2015 net-neutrality order.
Democrats spoke out against the repeal vote, believing it takes too much control of personal data out of consumer’s hands.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HW) considered the impact of the vote of internet privacy.
“Let me be clear,” Schatz said, “This is the single biggest step back in online privacy in many years.”
Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was one of many consumer advocacy groups opposed to the repeal.
“What I can say with confidence is Congress is handing a gift to lawyers for the cable and telephone industry to be able to fight back against privacy law enforcement and putting consumers at a disadvantage to have their rights protected,” Falcon said, according to Business Insider.
The Trump administration plans to sign the repeal into law soon, according to a March White House statement.
“If S.J.Res.34 were presented to the President,” the statement read, “his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law.”