GOP Senator Preps Resolution To Revoke Broadband Privacy Rules

Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who opposes the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules, says he's readying a resolution to rescind them, Politicoreports.

Flake's confirmation to Politico comes days after Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), the head of the House Communications Subcommittee, said she intends to work with the Senate to revoke the privacy regulations.

The FCC's rules, passed 3-2 vote last October, require broadband carriers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their data for ad targeting.

Broadband carriers and the ad industry oppose the requirements and have asked the FCC to reconsider. On Wednesday, Interactive Advertising Bureau Executive Vice President Dave Grimaldi argued in a blog post that the FCC should stay the "costly and ill-informed" privacy rules, which he says "threaten to dangerously interfere with the ability of global consumers to enjoy the content they love."

A coalition of opponents also asked lawmakers to revoke the rules under the Congressional Review Act -- a 1996 law that allows federal lawmakers to overturn recent agency decisions. If Congress does so, the FCC won't be allowed to replace them with new privacy regulations.

The carriers argue that the new rules unfairly disadvantage broadband providers by subjecting them to tougher standards than search engines, social networking services and other Web companies. Those companies, known as "edge providers," aren't subject to FCC jurisdiction and don't need to obtain people's explicit permission to draw on data about their Web use for ad purposes. As a practical matter, many edge providers allow consumers to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads.

Flake, a senator from Arizona, previously argued to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that the rules would violate Internet service providers' free speech rights. "The use of customer information for marketing purposes by ISPs is non-misleading protected commercial speech," Flake wrote to Wheeler last year.

But consumer advocates argue that Internet service providers should be subject to tough rules because they have an especially comprehensive view of Web users. Broadband providers have access to all unencrypted sites visited by consumers, as well as to their usage patterns.

"ISPs use consumers’ web browsing history and application history to determine very personal information about the consumer’s life," the groups wrote last month to the FCC. "This information can be used to discriminate against, embarrass, or intimidate individuals. Because this information cannot be made private again once it is known, it can also result in psychological harm."

Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, who supports the new privacy regulations, took to Twitter to respond to news about Flake's plan. "Troubling," she Tweeted. "Rolling back @FCC privacy rule will leave consumers unprotected & with fewer choices re sensitive data."

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