Senate votes to kill FCC's broadband privacy rules

The Senate voted today to strike down a rule created by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama era that regulated the conditions under which telecommunications carriers could share information about customers and laid out a protocol for companies to disclose information about data breaches.

The US Senate has voted to overturn consumer privacy laws enacted previous year by the FCC. The measure will now go to the House of Representatives to be voted on at a to-be-determined date. Among other things, the rules required ISPs to obtain consumers' permission in order to use certain sensitive data like browsing history that they obtain through their service. However, it doesn't come as a surprise since the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has remained outspoken against these rules since the beginning.

In a joint statement, Democratic members of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission said the Senate vote "creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements".

"At the FCC, consumers are much more protected with strong privacy rules that give (internet service providers) clear rules as to what's fair and what's foul", Dallas Harris, a policy fellow with consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said last month.

"Today's vote to roll back broadband privacy protections was a giveaway to the cable and telecom lobby, demonstrating that Senators who supported the resolution prioritize the interests of large corporations over those of their constituents", said Demand Progress communications director Mark Stanley. If it becomes law, it would also prevent the FCC from setting similar rules again. The FCC declined to comment on the Senate vote. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in a statement.

Before the privacy regulations can be entirely reversed, Sen.

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The same "level field" argument could easily be used at the FTC to argue that the rules on mobile operators should also be scrapped, as ISPs now have an "unfair advantage" in that they can sell consumers' data with few if any restrictions.

The privacy rules were already in trouble before the Senate acted. But internet providers want to be able to sell that data and use it to target ads, so they've been vocal about opposing the rules since around the time President Trump took office. "Without the FCC's broadband privacy rules, Americans go from being internet users to marketing data - from people to the product".

"During the drafting of the rule, the FTC raised substantial concerns about the FCC's proposed rule", said Jon Leibowitz, co-chair of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition and former FTC chair under President Obama.

"By voting to repeal these rules, Senate Republicans have sided with big broadband providers over consumers", said Open Technology Institute policy counsel Eric Null. His primary problem with the rules is that they are inconsistent with the FTC's own privacy regulations which affect so-called edge-providers operating in the digital industry such as Google or Facebook.

To begin with, it's worth remembering that ISPs and companies like Google or Facebook see entirely different parts of your Internet activity; namely that Google or Facebook only see the traffic you send to their servers, while ISPs see all your traffic.

  • Delia Davidson