Info-tech

US House votes to revoke internet privacy rules

PTI Washington | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on March 29, 2017
A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection, is seen on an Internet Explorer browser in a photo illustration in Paris April 15, 2014. Photo: Reuters

After this measure companies will be able to sell Americans’ most personal and sensitive information, including private browser history, without their knowledge or consent.   -  Reuters

In a major development, the Republican-controlled US House of Representative has voted to revoke the broadband privacy rules that the Federal Communications Commission approved days before President Donald Trump’s election.

Republicans passed the measure 215 to 205 which would overturn Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule of requiring internet service providers to get customers’ permission before selling sensitive consumer data such as browsing history.

The measure has now passed both chambers of Congress and will move to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

The White House has said that it supports the bill.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai welcomed the passage of the resolution.

“Last year, the FCC pushed through, on a party—line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies.

Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect,” he said.

“It is worth remembering that the FCC’s own overreach created the problem we are facing today. Until 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was protecting consumers very effectively, policing every online company’s privacy practices consistently and initiating numerous enforcement actions,” Pai said.

“However, two years ago, the FCC stripped the FTC of its authority over Internet service providers. At the time, I strongly opposed usurping the FTC, and the FCC’s struggles to address the privacy issue over the past couple of years (along with its refusal to recognise consumers’ uniform expectation of privacy) has only strengthened that view,” Pai said.

Broadband Internet Service Providers have access to customer information ranging from physical location to shopping habits and beyond.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy welcomed the passage of the bill.

“Since the dawn of the internet, the FTC has acted as America’s online privacy regulator. Last year, after the FCC acted to strip the FTC of that role, the FCC attempted to adopt flawed rules that it claimed would provide privacy protections for customers of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) but in reality created confusion and harmed competition without privacy benefits,” he said.

“The internet has become the amazing tool that it is because it is largely left untouched by regulation—and that shouldn’t stop now. The resolution we passed today will protect both consumers and the future of internet innovation by overturning this flawed FCC rule,” McCarthy said.

Before the passage of the bill, the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that after this measure companies will be able to sell Americans’ most personal and sensitive information, including private browser history, without their knowledge or consent.

“Information about when you log on, where you log on, and what you read could be sold to anyone willing to pay for it. Your broadband provider knows deeply personal information about you and your family — where you are, what you want to know, every site you visit, and more,” Pelosi said.

“They can even track you when you’re surfing in a private browsing mode. You deserve to be able to insist that those intimate details be kept private and secure. But Republicans have picked the week after Russian spies were caught hacking into half a billion American email accounts to overturn the requirement that internet service providers keep their sensitive data secured from cybercriminals,” she said.

Congressman Jared Polis, who led the Democrats in opposing the legislation, said while Republicans were talking loudly about fake wiretapping and make-believe spying microwaves, they are taking action to erode the privacy of anyone who uses the internet.

“Today, disappointingly, Republicans chose to allow broadband internet providers to sell off your personal information without your permission. Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,” said Polis.

“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.

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,” ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani said.

Congressman Barry Loudermilk said during the past eight years there were numerous efforts by the federal government to push regulations upon the technology sector.

“While some government intervention is occasionally justified to protect the privacy of citizens, in this case the FCC overstepped its bounds, implementing a rule that only targeted internet service providers, but not other internet technology companies,” he said.

If a regulation is justified, it should apply across the board, not a targeted sub-segment of an industry, he added.

“Today’s action is another step to remove unnecessary rules and regulations that handicap economic growth and innovation, and moves the country one step closer to ensuring that consumers’ private information is protected uniformly across the entire internet ecosystem,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom.

“Consumers can rest easy today knowing their privacy is protected under existing FCC authority, which requires companies to keep consumers’ data safe,” he said.

Published on March 29, 2017
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