Compliance Management, Network Security, Privacy

House votes to repeal FCC privacy laws for ISPs

Internet service providers (ISPs) soon will be able to sell their customers' data -- including their browsing histories -- without their consent after the House voted Tuesday to rout the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules.

The House vote, which saw 15 Republicans break from party lines to oppose the measure, followed a thumbs up from the Senate earlier in the month.

“Today Congress proved once again that they care more about the wishes of the corporations that fund their campaigns than they do about the safety and security of their constituents,” according to Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer. “Gutting these privacy rules won't just allow Internet Service Providers to spy on us and sell our personal information, it will also enable more unconstitutional mass government surveillance, and fundamentally undermine our cybersecurity by making our sensitive personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, and foreign governments."

Greer's group plans to plaster the country billboards listing the names of those members of Congress who voted for what privacy advocates see as selling out consumer privacy.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), blasted congressional Republicans for essentially repealing the FCC rules. "Our information belongs to us, not corporations," Sanders said in a Facebook post. "That is just common sense. And yet this week, Republicans in Congress voted to eliminate rules that would protect consumers' online data and personal information—including web browsing history, app usage and location—from being sold by Internet providers without consumers' permission."

The move also prevents "future privacy protections from being put into place," Sanders wrote. "My Republican colleagues often say they are concerned about government intrusion on civil liberties, but apparently it's fine if people's private information is sold to the highest corporate bidder without consumers knowing. This undermines our civil liberties and privacy rights which make us a free nation."

Privacy International Executive Director Dr. Gus Hosein called Congress's "vote to strip away one of the country's last remaining safeguards of the right to privacy is a noticeable backslide."

This vote, he said in a statement, "further widens the chasm between the U.S. and the growing international consensus of the need to protect internet privacy. The fact that both Congress and the White House are abandoning the essential safeguard against having your browsing history sold to marketing agencies foreshadows increasing conflict between legal regimes across the world. How can consumers globally have confidence in the security of their data being kept in the U.S. when the government is so keen to strip away rights of everyone with such ease?"

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed dismay over the lawmakers' actions and encouraged Donald Trump to nix the repeal. “It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon," ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement. "President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans. Trump should use his power to protect everyone's right to privacy.”

Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) urged the president also to oppose the action.“We urge President Trump to listen to the opposition of Americans across the country, particularly Latinos who are increasingly concerned about the kind of information that is being collected about us, how it is being shared and with whom," she said in a statement. "The decision to use information about our families should never leave our hands, and we hope that Internet Service Providers will value long-term customer loyalty over short-term profits.”

Repealing the rules will put people of color at risk, Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, said in a statement. “By voting to revoke Americans' right to online privacy, House Republicans have shown us they plan to continue enabling Donald Trump's plot to plunder America, starting with Black folks. Ending these important privacy protections gives greedy corporations unfettered access to our personal data and the power to further exploit vulnerable communities."

Saying that data collected from black broadband users by big corporations,“leads to predatory marketing, which starts at a young age and lasts throughout our lives," Robinson said. "Without the crucial FCC regulations implemented last year, Black and marginalized communities will continue to experience online price gouging, data discrimination, and digital redlining."

Echoing other proponents of the FCC privacy laws, Scurato called the House vote "a disturbing rubber stamp from conservative policymakers aimed at dismantling needed consumer protections for corporate profit." If the president approves, "corporations will now be handed the ability to share the sensitive, personal information of millions of Americans without their consent and hinder the FCC's role as a consumer watchdog far into the future," she said.

Hosein doesn't see Trump complying with privacy advocates' wishes. "The White House has said it 'strongly supports' the nullifying of this essential safeguard," he said, reiterating that the change will "serve corporate interests, while trampling over" privacy rights. "Our phones, computers, and array of so-called 'smart' devices such as connected cars, home appliances, and toys, all reveal vast amounts of personal information. With this change, your internet provider, and various third parties, may know your habits and patterns, and will be able to exploit that information about you," he said. "As threats to privacy and security increase, it is irresponsible to jettison hard-fought and meaningful privacy protections and allow wholesale access to people's online lives."

But Len Shneyder, vice chairman of the Member Advisory Committee (MAC) of the Email Experience Council (EEC),which is owned by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), said the FCC privacy laws adopted in the waning days of the Obama administration "were an overreach of the jurisdiction of the FCC."

In a Tuesday blog post, he said, the rules "would greatly undermine businesses that rely on ISP data as a source of their overall big data initiatives and further complicate the landscape given the opt-out nature of CAN-SPAM."

Calling the FCC laws "interesting" and contending "the intention was correct," Shneyder said "the application and construction of the rules didn't take into consideration the nuances of how ISP/broadband providers use data." 

The NCTA – The Internet & Television Association concurred, praising the House's vote. “Today's Congressional action to repeal the FCC's misguided rules marks an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all internet companies," the organization said in a statement. "With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design' principles and honor the FTC's successful consumer protection framework.  We look forward to working with policymakers to restore consistency and balance to online privacy protections.”

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