Senate narrowly votes to overturn broadband privacy rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under then-President Obama had approved rules that required internet providers to obtain consumer consent before using their financial, health, or web browsing information, among other data, for advertising and internal marketing.

The Senate voted along party lines to repeal the rule, with 50 Republicans voting yes and 48 Democrats rejecting the measure, Reuters reports. The House could vote on a similar measure next week.

The rules would be costly and burdensome, Republicans have claimed, and according to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would "make the internet an uneven playing field".

Americans for Tax Reform - best known for creating a "pledge" almost 30 years ago about not creating any new taxes, which all Republican Congressmen are pressured into signing - approved of the vote, too.

The rules, which were adopted in October under the Democrat-controlled FCC, would require broadband providers to explicitly ask consumers' permission before sharing their sensitive information, such as web browsing history, app usage or location with third parties like advertisers.

The regulations were set to go into effect in February, but were halted by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

"The American public wants us to do more to protect their privacy".

And Fight for the Future, a tech-supported organization, said that Senators who voted "to sell out their constituents privacy will soon learn that the money they get from cable companies can't buy back our trust".

The vote kills "the only privacy protections Americans can have when they use the internet or their mobile phones", said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Passage of the resolution by Congress could prevent the FCC from issuing rules that are substantially the same in the future.

Introduced last October by the Federal Communications Commission, the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules were created to provide consumers with more control over their data.

Privacy advocates blasted the Senate's vote, and many net neutrality advocates see the vote as an early step toward dismantling net neutrality. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said after the vote.

Flake argued that the rules were preventing consumers from receiving "innovative and cost-saving product offerings" - in other words ads from companies that have paid your ISP for your personal information. He said self-regulation would allow broadband companies to write their own privacy rules and ignore "reasonable" data security practices. He chastised the "inconsistent treatment of data" and said the rules made it "increasingly hard for consumers to learn about the latest product offerings from broadband providers".

If passed by the House and signed by President Trump, the bill would use an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to eliminate the rules before they go into effect.

Senate Republicans showed Thursday that they don't care about your online privacy. Google and Facebook in particular have emerged as leaders in digital advertising thanks to their massive data libraries.

To be effective in this dynamic world, Internet privacy rules must apply in a consistent and comprehensive way across the entire organic online ecosystem.

  • Fernando Stephens