Advocates Say Privacy at Risk as House Prepares to Repeal Broadband Rules

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March 28, 2017 at 1:37 pm ET

The House is poised to pass a resolution Tuesday that would repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules governing internet service providers and restrict the agency’s ability to pass similar rules in the future.

Privacy advocates warn that the measure could damage the ability of regulators to protect internet users’ personal information and cybersecurity. The Senate passed the resolution last week on a 50-48 party-line vote, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

The resolution would undo the FCC’s broadband privacy rules that require internet service providers to obtain explicit consent from consumers before selling personal information, such as web browsing and app usage history, for marketing purposes. It would also prohibit the FCC from approving similar rules in the future before Congress passes legislation allowing it.

Proponents of the FCC rule worry that if signed into law, the resolution would leave consumers without a regulator to police privacy and security after a federal appeals court ruled in August that the Federal Trade Commission has no jurisdiction over AT&T Inc. because of the company’s status as a common carrier following the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules.

“With no rule on the books, there is no cop on the beat to protect people who pay for internet services, leaving Americans with few options to protect their privacy online,” Eric Null, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said in a statement following the Senate vote.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a blog post this week that eliminating the rules would create new targets for hackers to steal the personal information of internet users, and it could open new holes in browsing security by inserting advertisements.

If the rules are repealed, the FCC would continue to police the privacy protections of consumers on a case-by-case basis through Section 222 of the Communications Act. If Republicans on Capitol Hill and at the agency undo the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service, that provision would no longer be applicable to internet service providers.

The broadband industry and the broader technology sector support the GOP-backed resolution. The Consumer Technology Association, a group representing more than 2,000 companies, including Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., urged the House to pass the resolution.

“The FCC’s flawed broadband privacy rules will have a chilling effect on internet innovation and competition,” CTA President and Chief Executive Gary Shapiro said in a statement Tuesday. He added that the “overreaching rule” was implemented without full consideration for the FTC’s regulatory framework, an argument Republicans have made since the FCC passed the rules in October.

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