Senate Scuttles FCC Privacy Restrictions on Internet Providers’ Use of Subscriber Data

U.S. Capitol
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The Senate voted to sideline FCC rules that greatly restricted the type of consumer data that internet providers could share without their permission.

The rules, passed by the FCC in October, when it was under Democratic control, had yet to take effect.

The FCC’s rules required that internet service providers get consent from their subscribers before they shared data on such things as browsing history, location data, and other types of usage. Such data collection is increasingly lucrative when it comes to advertising.

But Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who sponsored the legislation to roll back the FCC’s action, said that the rules had “the potential to limit customers’ choice, stifle innovation and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem.”

Internet service providers had objected to the FCC action, arguing that it subjected them to tougher regulations than those imposed by the Federal Trade Commission on internet search engines and social media sites.

The Senate voted 50-48 in a party line vote to scuttle the FCC rules. The House is also expected to take up a similar measure.

Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement that “Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T have been trying to get rid of these rules since the day they were approved, and the Senate just handed them a big victory.

“Consumers have a fundamental right to privacy. The FCC rules were carefully designed to give broadband customers greater choice and security for their private data.”

The resolution also prohibits the FCC from adopting similar rules in the future.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that “With today’s vote, Senate 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. The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them.”

NCTA — The Internet Association, which has lobbied against the FCC rules, said that the Senate vote “represents a critical step towards reestablishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the FCC’s rules when they were passed in a 3-2 vote in October. After he became chairman in January, he put on hold the implementation of portions of the new regulations.

At the FCC’s regular meeting on Thursday, he said that the FCC “should have made sure that its regulatory approach matched the FTC’s framework.” He said that the “asymmetry in terms of regulation of companies that are in the same space” was “something that doesn’t ultimately serve consumers well.”