Senate Votes To Roll Back Internet Privacy Rules

The Senate has voted to dismantle a set of internet privacy rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year. The rules were passed under Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s previous chairman, in a party-line vote in the final months of the Obama presidency. The Senate passed the resolution ending those rules in a 50-48 party line vote.

The rules under fire required internet service providers to obtain customers’ permission before using their personal information for advertising purposes. Consumers would have to give their consent for service providers to use and share information such as location tracking, social security numbers, browsing data, and app usage. The rules also compelled providers to tell customers about the data they collect and the purpose of that data collection. Providers would also have to tell consumers what types of third party companies might be given access to that information.

Critics of the privacy regulations say they subject service providers to stricter regulations than websites such as Facebook and Google. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, called the regulations a “bureaucratic power grab.” If passed by the House and signed by President Trump, the bill would eliminate the rules before they go into effect. The FCC would also be barred from passing “substantially similar” regulations in the future.

The vote was a major win for the internet service providers. Democratic lawmakers and consumer advocates viewed the landmark privacy rules as crucial protections in the digital age. Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.) spoke against the measure on the Senate floor before the vote. Markey said in a statement after the vote that “every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result of the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections.”

Ajit Pai, the new Trump-appointed Chair of the FCC, and Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission, believe that consumers will be better protected with a single set of internet privacy rules for both providers and web services. In a joint statement, they said, “The federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another — and certainly not when it comes to a marketplace as dynamic as the Internet.”

Pai moved to block part of the privacy rules last month. The portion of rules he attempted to restrict compelled internet providers to adopt reasonable security measures and notify customers when data breaches occur.

The Trump administration has undertaken a deregulatory campaign since gaining control of the White House. Recently passed rules regarding protecting waterways from coal pollution, requiring mining and drilling companies to disclose certain financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and keeping some mentally ill people from buying guns have been overturned in February alone.


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