Wolverton: Senate Republicans strike blow against privacy with broadband vote

Senate Republicans showed Thursday that they don’t care about your online privacy. It remains to be seen whether their colleagues in the House of Representatives and Donald Trump feel the same way.

On a party-line vote, the Senate on Thursday voted to strike down online privacy protections the Federal Communications Commission established last year. The rules, which were largely set to take effect later this year, would require broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T to seek customer approval before collecting certain data on their online activities and would require them to take “reasonable” measures to protect the data they collect.

A similar resolution is awaiting a vote in the House. Assuming both houses pass the measure, it would require Trump’s signature before taking effect.

Republicans have argued that the rules were unfair to broadband providers and confusing to consumers, because they didn’t cover Google, Facebook and other web-based companies. They’ve also argued that privacy protections should remain the job of the Federal Trade Commission.

But those arguments are disingenuous. While the FCC can craft rules for broadband providers, its authority doesn’t extend to web companies. Meanwhile, the FTC only has the authority to enforce rules, not to write them. And since there’s no general online privacy law in the United States — and passing one is not exactly topping the agenda of congressional Republicans — it’s ability to protect consumers’ privacy from broadband providers or web companies is severely limited.

Consumer advocates, who pushed hard for the privacy measure, lambasted the Senate’s move.

“Today, 50 members of the U.S. Senate voted to sell their constituents most personal information to the highest bidder,” said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight For the Future, an internet advocacy group. “The Senators who voted today to sell out their constituents privacy will soon learn that the money they get from Cable companies can’t buy back our trust.”

The Senate’s action came in the form of a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, an obscure law written in the 1990s that allows Congress to repeal rules issued by federal agencies in the waning days of a presidential administration. In the Senate, CRA resolutions can’t be filibustered.

But CRA resolutions do more than simply block new rules. Their passage bars the agency that issued the rules from reinstating them or putting in place new rules that are substantially similar to the ones that were blocked. In other words, if the resolution on the FCC’s privacy rules takes effect, the FCC will not be allowed to issue any more rules to protect broadband users’ private information unless congress gives the agency that authority via a new law.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, both Democrats, pointed to that fact in decrying the Senate’s move.

“This legislation will frustrate the FCC’s future efforts to protect the privacy of voice and broadband customers,” they said in a joint statement. “It also creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements. “This is the antithesis of putting #ConsumersFirst.”


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  • Jennifer Hudson

    Senate voted for ISPs legally sell your browser history without any consent. Better buy Pure VPN access!