House Passes, Trump to Sign, Bill Rolling Back Obama-Era Internet Privacy Protection
The House of Representatives approved — and President Donald Trump signaled he will sign — a bill repealing Obama-era Internet privacy rules restricting Internet service providers’ ability to track and sell users’ online browsing data.
The Washington Post reports the Republican-controlled House voted 215-205 along party lines on Tuesday to repeal landmark online privacy protections, opening the door for Internet service providers (ISPs) including Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to enter the $83 billion online advertising market. The legislation, which was narrowly approved by the Senate last week, will stop the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from enforcing rules blocking ISPs from tracking Internet users’ browsing history and selling the data to advertisers.
The FCC approved the repealed rules during the final weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency. They would have required ISPs to obtain customers’ permission before selling or sharing their web browsing data, as well as making the corporations more accountable for preventing data breaches. The repeal bill frees ISPs from having to protect customers’ data from hackers and thieves.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who introduced the repeal bill in the Senate, argued the overturned FCC rules could “limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the Internet ecosystem.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asserted the old rules disadvantaged ISPs in favor of Internet companies like Google and Facebook, which enjoy greater freedom to collect and monetize user data. “All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency,” Pai and acting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairwoman Maureen Olhausen said in a joint statement earlier this month.
“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework,” Pai said in defense of the new law. “The best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”
Internet privacy advocates had supported the Obama-era rule change, with many refuting the notion that ISPs should be held to the same standards as Internet companies. “Google doesn’t see everything you do on the Internet (neither does Facebook, for that matter, or any other online platform) — they only see the traffic you send to them,” the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation explained. “And you can always choose to use a different website if you want to avoid Google’s tracking. None of that is true about your ISP… That’s why we need the FCC’s privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they’ve shown they’re willing to abuse that power.”
Democratic lawmakers slammed the repeal measure. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said ISP should now stand for “Information Sold For Profit” and “Invading Subscriber Privacy” during last week’s Senate debate of the bill. “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 roll-back of broadband privacy protections,” Markey said.
However, Republican House members — all but 15 of whom voted for the repeal (all Democrats voted against the bill) — defended the legislation as a rollback of government overreach. “The Internet was not broken and did not need the federal government to come in and try to protect it,” stressed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). Some Republicans even claimed the new law will boost privacy. “[Consumer privacy] will be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these [Obama-era] rules will create,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who heads the House subcommittee supervising the FCC, said.