Senate votes to block internet privacy regulations

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24 March, 2017

The Senate voted to overturn the broadband privacy rules using the Congressional Review Act, which lets lawmakers undo regulations enacted in the last months of the Obama administration with a majority vote.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines Thursday to repeal Internet privacy protections that were approved by the Federal Communications Commission just days before Donald Trump won the election. ISPs argued browsing and app usage data should not be considered sensitive information, while advertising groups stated their belief that self-regulation from the industry is good enough to protect user privacy without government regulation.

The FCC had already taken steps to blunt the impact of the regulations since Ajit Pai was appointed FCC chairman earlier this year, such as dropping the commission's investigation into carrier zero-rating plans - which let telcos favor some media channels by providing data-free or more reliable broadband - and exempting ISPs with fewer than 250,000 subscribers from net neutrality rules. President Trump, who campaigned on rolling back federal regulations, is likely to sign the repeal. It is. I detailed why in a post last night, and plenty of Senators, including Massachusetts' Ed Markey, who led the creation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, vociferously opposed the resolution.

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

"We are talking about taking privacy rights away from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule", Nelson said.

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On the Senate floor Thursday Democratic Senator Ron Wyden defended the privacy regulations as a crucial tool for transparency and a way to give consumers some control over their digital footprint.

"Today's vote should trigger the European Union to begin reviewing the so-called "Privacy Shield" agreement allowing data to flow between the EU to the US", he said. The nation's largest broadband companies - AT&T, Comcast and Verizon - have each made acquisitions in an effort to build their digital content holdings, making them not only the companies that provide a broadband pipe into your home, but also companies whose own content rides that network.

But, objectively, the rules were specifically created to protect consumers by giving them the ability to decide how their private data - including what websites they visit and when - can be used. The CRA not only reverses the rules, but also dictates the agency behind the policy can not re-introduce the rules. The measure will now go to the House of Representatives to be voted on at a to-be-determined date. The policy would have required internet service providers to ask for permission before collecting sensitive information from customers. 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.

Consumer data, particularly the kind generated by internet traffic, has become incredibly valuable thanks to the emergence of companies that can use this information to create highly targeted advertising. "Moreover, they have released a voluntary set of ISP Privacy Principles that cover transparency, consumer choice, data security and data breach notification and are consistent with the FTC's long-standing framework".


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