Congress Votes Yes on Repealing Internet Privacy Regulation

UPDATE: March 28, 5:40pm PST
The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday, in a 215-205 decision, to roll back the yet-to-take effect regulation initiated by the Obama administration that would have mandated internet service providers–such as Comcast and Time Warner–would need to get your approval to sell your personal data to marketers and other such data-buyers. The full story can be read on NPR and read our original post below to find out what this rollback will mean for you.

Original Post: March 27, 1:30pm PST
Today, the House of Representatives will vote on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that will repeal core internet user privacy protections put into place by the FCC in 2016. The CRA dismantling the nascent privacy protections was already passed by the Senate last week, and if passed by the House and signed by the President, internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast will be able to sell customers’ “sensitive information” without requiring them to knowingly opt-in.The story of the attempted CRA repeal of the 2016 FCC regulations, which comes via The Verge, centers around which types of customer information ISPs can sell without requiring customer consent or knowledge.

As of right now, because of privacy rules adopted by the FCC last year, which “establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information… calibrated to the sensitivity of the information,” internet users have been protected against the sale of their personal information by an opt-in/opt-out policy. Essentially, under current FCC rules, ISPs “are required to obtain affirmative ‘opt-in’ consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information… which [includes] precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.” 

Opt-out level information, deemed far less personal, includes information like a user’s email address and “service tier information,” and requires users to actively opt-out of letting their ISP share that data.

The CRA, a “law [that] empowers Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, new federal regulations issued by government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, to overrule [those regulations],” means that, in this case, congress can wipe away the rules put into place by the FCC. With this CRA resolution, congress also aims to ban the FCC from passing similar laws in the future.

Some congressional representatives are even saying this CRA resolution is a preliminary attack on the FCC’s rules for net neutrality (which protect and promote the open internet) put into place in 2015. That order essentially established rules for keeping the internet in the U.S. unbiased by ISPs by denying them the ability to block lawful content, throttle certain websites (decrease their data delivery speeds), or accept fees for increasing the delivery speeds for certain websites’ data (creating “internet fast lanes”). “The big broadband barons and their allies are firing their opening salvo in the war on net neutrality and they want broadband privacy protections to be their first victim,” Senator Ed Markey said at an oversight hearing.

Eliminating the requirement to obtain consent from users in order to sell their sensitive information would obviously be a massive lucrative boon for ISPs. The treasure trove of data can be sold to advertisers so that they can more effectively target consumers. It has also been pointed out that if personal information is sold to the highest bidder, it could affect other areas aside from advertising—personal medical information could be given to health insurance providers, for example. And while companies like Facebook and Google already sell users’ sensitive data for marketing purposes, it’s argued by opponents of this CRA resolution that it’s much easier to find an alternate social media platform or search engine rather than a new ISP (as in some areas, there is literally only one provider).

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the FCC by President Obama in 2012 and then elevated to Chairman by President Trump, said in a written statement that “[his] view is that there should be a comprehensive and consistent framework for protecting digital privacy. There should not be one standard for Internet service providers and another for other online companies.”

Along with select representatives, advocacy organizations, including the ACLU, Free Press, and Demand Progress, have already delivered nearly 90,000 petitions to elected officials asking them “not to bow to industry pressure and [save broadband privacy].”

For those who’d like to contact representatives in the House and request that they oppose this resolution, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has set up an easy-to-use online form. You can also find the contact information for you local representative using your zip code here.

What do you think about this CRA resolution aimed at repealing the FCC’s consumer protection rules? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: Flickr / Blogtrepreneur

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