US Republicans Senators Approved Bill Nullifying FCC Rules on Internet Privacy
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Late last March, US Congress approved a bill that would nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) final rule titled, “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunication Services”, just days before it was due to take effect. This rule, which was created by the FCC during the Obama administration, prevents US ISPs to sell off their client’s private information without the client’s consent. The move to revoke it means that, this time, US ISPs will be able to sell their client’s information, like status of health, credit card numbers and bank account passwords, their client’s social security numbers, literally any information that passes through their networks (or, at the very least, anything they can see that isn’t encrypted), to the highest bidder (literally anyone with money). The vote in the House was 215 Republicans voting in favor, while 15 Republicans joined 190 Democrats to nullify the rule. According to nypost.com three New York Republicans voted no: Reps. Lee Zeldin, John Faso and Elise Stefanik. Just today, newly elected POTUS, Donald Trump, has signed the bill.
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Before the rule, US Democrats have long argued that the digital tracks left by people are their property, not the property of US ISPs. Republicans have argued back that US ISPs should have the right to sell those data. During the Obama Administration, new rules were created by the FCC concerning Internet privacy. With the FCC rules, US ISPs now need to have their user’s consent for them to be able to sell their private information.
The White House defended the move to revoke this rule with a blogpost last week, stating that it trespasses on the net-neutral rules set by the US Federal Trade Commission(FTC). However the FTC rules have no actual power over ISPs because US ISPs are considered “common carriers” by their law so the FTC rules are pretty much worthless. What they can only do is charge US ISPs of unfair or deceptive acts IF the ISPs declare that they will protect their clients’ privacy.
Image Source: Common Dreams
Ajit Pai, Republican head of the FCC, is celebrating right now with ISPs and advertising agencies who view user data as a valuable resource. According to an Ars Technica article:
“Congressional action to repeal the FCC’s misguided rules marks an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all Internet companies,” said NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, the cable industry’s biggest lobby group.
“The House and Senate got it right on the ISP regulations,” said the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), one of six advertising industry trade groups that previously urged Congress to kill the privacy rules. “If these rules were to be enacted, they would disrupt the framework that has allowed the marketing ecosystem to responsibly use data to develop vital services that consumers now rely upon while also injecting dynamic innovation and growth into the U.S. economy.”
For now, there are no rules barring US ISPs to sell their clients’ private data. With the rule now dead the only thing that stands to protect that data is encryption. But not all sites provide encryption and using VPNs is both costly and a pain (because they may slow down Internet speed and reduce the quality), especially for people into online gaming (who rely on both the quality and the speed of the connection).
And There won’t be anything much the Democrats can do for now. They may try broadening the power of FTC to cover common carriers too, but only time will tell. Right now it is up to the Internet users in the US to be vigilant about what sites they go to and protect their identity and privacy.