Senate Votes To Scuttle FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules

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Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other broadband providers may soon win back the freedom to use and sell information they collect about customers’ internet surfing habits.

The Senate just passed a resolution to scrap a collection of FCC rules — adopted in October, but that have yet to take effect — that require ISPs to secure consumers’ permission to use the data about them. The proposal now goes to the House, and then President Trump, who are expected to approve.

The Senate used a law known as the Congressional Review Act — part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996 — that enables legislators to overturn regulatory rules.

ISPs said that the FCC exceeded its authority by passing the rules. In addition, they said that the FCC was stricter with them than the FTC was in adopting similar privacy rules for the content providers it regulates.

The Senate vote is “a critical step towards reestablishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online,” the cable industry’s NCTA – The Internet & Television Association says today.

“Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers,” it adds. “We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

The communications industry supported 21st Century Privacy Coalition, led by former US Rep. Mary Bono and former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, said that the FCC had used “an overbroad definition of sensitive data out of step with consumer expectations, and failed to place sensible restrictions on its breach notification standard in its flawed rule.”

But consumer groups universally condemned the Senate action.

Consumers Union Senior Policy Counsel Jonathan Schwantes called it “outrageous” that “the resolution doesn’t just kill the rules. It prevents the FCC from adopting ‘similar’ rules, even far weaker ones, to protect internet users in the future. It’s hard to see how this vote benefits anyone other than the companies that have been strong-arming Congress to step in and kill the standards.”

Public Knowledge Policy Fellow Dallas Harris called it “a clear sign that American interests come second to those of broadband providers….Without the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, Americans go from being internet users to marketing data — from people to the product.”

And Fight for the Future, a tech-supported organization, said that Senators who voted “to sell out their constituents privacy will soon learn that the money they get from cable companies can’t buy back our trust.”

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who left in January, promoted the rules which passed last year on a party-line vote. He said at the time that the “more our economy and our lives move online, the more information about us goes over our Internet Service Provider (ISP) – and the more consumers want to know how to protect their personal information in the digital age.”

The FCC’s plan would have required cable and phone companies to tell customers what information they collect, how they use it, and the types of entities with whom they share it.

ISPs would have been required to make these disclosures when someone signs up for service, and any time there’s a significant change in policy. It would also have to be available on a website or mobile app.

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