Digital rights organizations, privacy groups and Democratic leaders reacted with indignation after the U.S. Senate, by a margin of 50-48 yesterday, passed a joint resolution that would undo FCC rules banning telecom and ISP companies from selling consumers’ data without their consent.
Conversely, Senate Republicans and at least one telecom trade organization praised the proposed legislative motion, which would nullify the FCC doctrine entitled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services” that was approved under the Obama administration in December 2016. The rules specified in this document also require carriers to accurately inform customers about the confidential information they collect, as well as to reasonably secure consumer data and notify the proper authorities following a data breach.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sponsored the joint resolution under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review new federal regulations imposed by government agencies and overrule them. The resolution would also reportedly prevent the FCC from introducing similar rules in the future. Senate lawmakers voted purely down party lines, and the resolution must must still pass the House before landing on President Donald Trump’s desk.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon,” said ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani in a statement. “The resolution would undo privacy rules that ensure consumers control how their most sensitive information is used. The House must now stop this resolution from moving forward and stand up for our privacy rights.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) policy analyst Kate Tummarello said in her own online statement that the resolution “would be a crushing loss for online privacy. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent.”
“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican rollback of broadband privacy protections,” lamented Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission. The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them. We should not have to forgo our fundamental right to privacy just because our homes and phones are connected to the Internet.”
Sen. Flake, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, claimed in his own statement that FCC’s rules threatened to “limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the Internet ecosystem.”
“Passing my resolution is the first step toward restoring a consumer-friendly approach to Internet privacy regulation that empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared,” Flake continued. “It will not change or lessen existing consumer privacy protections.”
Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA, an advocacy group representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, applauded Flake and the solution’s 24 co-sponsors for “seeking a commonsense and harmonized approach to protecting Americans’ privacy. Wireless carriers are committed to safeguarding consumer privacy, and we support regulatory clarity and uniformity across our digital economy.”