Senate Kills Off FCC Privacy Regulations

The House must still consider this legislation.

By a vote of 50-48, the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a resolution that repealed a requirement put in place by the Federal Communications Commission forcing internet service providers (like: cable companies, or the companies that you pay for internet access) to obtain permission from their consumers before tracking and selling their data.

The FCC privacy rules for ISPs have been doomed since President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai, also a critic of the regulations, to head the FCC. In instances of more private data collection (your financial data or browsing history), users would have needed to opt in to have this data collected, stored and sold by broadband providers. The regulation would have also required companies, such as Comcast and AT&T, to alert the Federal Bureau of Investigation within a week of detecting such breaches.

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who chairs a Judiciary subcommittee on privacy and the sponsor of the move, said afterward that overturning the FCC regulation would halt regulatory expansion.

"This is an important victory for all who benefit from the data-driven marketing economy, including tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations and hundreds of millions of consumers", Data & Marketing Association Senior Vice President Emmett O'Keefe said today in a statement.

In the opposition, Democratic Senator Ed Markey added that the "Republicans have just made it easier for American's sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission".

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ISPs have pushed Congress and the FCC to roll back the regs, saying they were overly restrictive in relation to edge providers' privacy regulatory regime and could adversely impact the free web content model.

"We are talking about taking privacy rights away from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule", Nelson said. "Without prompt action in Congress or at the FCC, the FCC's regulations would break with well-accepted and functioning industry practices, chilling innovation and hurting the consumers the regulation was supposed to protect".

Privacy advocates widely condemned this afternoon's Senate vote.

The ultimate target of the GOP and broadband providers, Democrats said, are the controversial online traffic rules known as net neutrality that are created to ensure the free-flow of content on the Internet. Earlier this month, the FCC voted to stay a part of the rules requiring broadband providers to take reasonable steps to protect the security of customer data.

The bill will now go to the US House of Representatives, but it's unlikely that it would be stopped there. Google and Facebook in particular have emerged as leaders in digital advertising thanks to their massive data libraries. While Internet users can choose between numerous online services for search, email, and more - including services that feature built-in privacy protections as a selling point - most consumers have few if any options when it comes to choosing an ISP. Internet companies are subject to rules by the Federal Trade Commission, which only require they offer consumers the opportunity to opt-out of such data sharing.

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