US Senate votes to overturn FCC broadband privacy rules

A ruling by the US Federal Communications Commission that prevented ISPs selling on user data without their consent is set to be overturned following a Senate vote.

The broadband privacy rules were one of a raft of measures pushed through by the FCC late last year in anticipation of a changing of the guard following the US Presidential election. The stated aim of the rules was to protect user data regarding their internet behavior and give them greater control over what ISPs could sell on.

But as we noted at the time, the complexity of the rules made it unlikely such an outcome would be achieved and seemed to offer plenty of work-arounds for the ISPs. Nonetheless the leading US cablecos have apparently been lobbying frantically to get this stuff overturned and seem to have found a sympathetic in new, Trump-approved FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

A month ago the FCC made a statement detailing Pai’s view that ISPs should be subject to the same regulatory framework as all other internet players. “Therefore, he has advocated returning to a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world and harmonizing the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for others in the digital economy,” said the statement.

The senate vote was narrowly won – 50-48 – apparently along party lines, with a couple of republicans not voting. The victors – Pai and the big telcos – have kept a respectful silence, those unhappy with the move have been quick to express their disapproval, including a couple of FCC commissioners.

“Today the Senate voted along party lines to dismantle the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. If signed by the President, this law would repeal the FCC’s widely-supported broadband privacy framework, and eliminate the requirement that cable and broadband providers offer customers a choice before selling their sensitive, personal information,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny.

“This legislation will frustrate the FCC’s future efforts to protect the privacy of voice and broadband customers.  It also creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements.  This is the antithesis of putting #ConsumersFirst. The House must still consider this legislation. We hope they recognize the importance of consumer privacy and not undermine the ability of Americans to exercise control over their sensitive data.”

Consumer commentators seem to unanimously consider this to be a negative development, the general tone being that profits have been prioritized over privacy. But if ISPs are facing greater restrictions than internet players such as Google and Facebook over what they can do with user data, it does seem desirable to level the playing field.

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One comment

  1. Avatar Jack Walter 25/03/2017 @ 12:03 pm

    I never imagined that there would come a day when there would be no jurisdiction on ISPs. This is Trump’s monarchy at its worst. I’d never want my carrier to sell my private browsing history to Samsung or Unilever! Who knows if an executive uses this information with bad intentions or it gets leaked in process. Thank God I use PureVPN. It safeguards my privacy and anonymity and forbids ISPs from accessing my data.

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