Congress vote may overturn Internet privacy rules
Congress is set to vote Thursday to nullify the new broadband privacy rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission last year.
The rules, which would have required Internet service providers to ask customers’ permission to collect, use and sell personal information, were passed Oct. 27, 2016 by the FCC, then chaired by Democrat Tom Wheeler.
But Republicans are poised to overturn the rules entirely, using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to dismiss regulations recently enacted by the previous administration with a simple majority vote in the Senate.
The FCC put “heavy-handed” rules on ISPs than on online content providers and other Net industries that amounted to “bad regulation,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who proposed the review of the rules, on Wednesday.
But Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called the Congressional Review Act “a blunt congressional tool” that would not only “wipe out thoughtful rules,” but also prevent the FCC from reintroducing similar rules. He also echoed the concerns of many consumer advocates that nullifying the privacy rules would make it easier for ISPs to sell consumer data to marketers.
But Flake and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., noted that the FCC — now chaired by Republican Ajit Pai — still has some privacy oversight of consumer privacy and there are other federal and state laws. The vote is scheduled for noon ET Thursday.
The FCC gained jurisdiction of consumer privacy on broadband networks after 2015’s passage of net neutrality or Open Internet rules that designated ISPs as “common carriers,” akin to traditional phone service.
There are some advantages to the having different levels of privacy for different data being collected, said Chris Hoofnagle, a law professor and faculty director at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at the University of California-Berkeley.
“The FCC’s opt-in rules are much more prescriptive than the FTC’s,” he said. “These strict provisions came about because carriers have a history of manipulating people to get them to ‘consent’ to marketing or to limits of their rights.”
Under Pai, named by President Trump, the commission moved earlier this month to stay a data security provision in the rules, set to go into effect (the rest of the rules would not go into action until later this year).
At the time, Pai and FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen released a statement pledging to work together to achieve “a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world.”