At the beginning of the year, the Federal Communications Commission enacted rules that applied existing communications privacy requirements to cover broadband internet service providers (ISPs). By extending restrictions already in place for telecommunications carriers, the FCC currently requires ISPs to give customers notice and an option to opt-in or opt-out before taking their personal information and sharing it with third parties. ISPs also have to take measures to protect data security and notify customers of any breach. A resolution passed by Republicans in Congress on Tuesday aims to eliminate all of this.
The joint resolution simply states, “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to ‘’Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Tele-communications Services’’ … and such rule shall have no force or effect.”
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who introduced the resolution, defended it beforehand in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, claiming that the resolution benefits consumers, but he doesn’t explain how. What he does explain is how the FCC’s rules took ISPs out of the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, which imposed fewer restriction on internet companies. He laments that the FCC regulation puts the same restrictions on ISPs sharing a user’s online history as it does for their sensitive personal information. He does not explain how that’s a bad thing for customers.
After Republicans signed the resolution, Flake, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, reiterated in a statement that it is beneficial for consumers. “My resolution is the first step toward restoring the FTC’s light-touch, consumer-friendly approach,” he said. Again, he did not specify how this is better for internet users.
When the FCC extended privacy rules to ISPs, they made it so that people’s internet providers can’t just dig through their personal information and browser history and sell the data to outside parties. They didn’t forbid the practice outright, they just made it so that they have to notify users first and give them the opportunity to choose whether they want their information to be made available for sharing.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, ranking member of the Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee, said in a statement, “Regardless of politics, allowing ISPs to operate in a rule-free zone without any government oversight is reckless. … With data breaches and cyber-attacks on the rise, American families need stronger, not weaker consumer privacy choices and protections.”
LawNewz.com asked Senator Flake for any comment that would elaborate how the resolution would benefit consumers, but he has not responded.
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