House Repeals Broadband Privacy Rules

The House of Representatives today voted 215-205 to repeal sweeping broadband privacy rules that were passed last year.

Last week, the Senate passed a similar measure by a vote of 50-48. The bill now heads to President Donald Trump for signature.

The measure overturns the rules under the Congressional Review Act -- a 1996 law that allows federal lawmakers to vacate recent agency decisions. When Congress uses that vehicle to scrap rules, the agency that issued them is prohibited from crafting replacement regulations. The House's Tuesday evening vote came several hours after the White House officially endorsed a repeal.

The broadband privacy rules, passed by the FCC 3-2 last October, impose a host of new requirements on Internet service providers. Among the most controversial are provisions requiring carriers to obtain opt-in consent before drawing on data about subscribers' Web-browsing history and app usage for ad targeting.

Trade groups representing the ad industry and broadband carriers oppose those rules, as does FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Critics argue that the opt-in consent requirement subjects carriers to tougher standards than search engines, social networking services and other Web companies. Those companies -- which are not regulated by the FCC -- typically allow consumers to opt out of the collection and sharing of most types of Web-browsing data.

But supporters of the rules, including lawmakers like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) counter that broadband carriers are not comparable to other online companies -- largely because broadband carriers can glean detailed knowledge about subscribers' online activity by examining all unencrypted traffic that passes through their networks.

"Broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families," Pelosi said on the floor Tuesday afternoon. "They can even track us when we're surfing in private browsing mode. Americans private browser history should not be up for sale."

She added: "If the Republicans are allowed to do this, we have surrendered all thoughts of privacy for the American people."

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) argued that broadband providers should be subject to tough rules because they serve as gatekeepers. "You don't have to go to Google, you don't have to go to Facebook, you don't have to go to Netflix, in order to get your Internet service," Eshoo said on Tuesday. "To equalize and say that Google [and Facebook] are equal to your Internet service provider, suggests to me that some people just don't know what they're talking about."

Colorado's Jared Polis questioned why Congress would "hamstring the agency" by adopting a resolution that bans the FCC from imposing future privacy rules. "If this bill were to become law, it would essentially become impossible for the FCC to act to protect the privacy of Americans who use broadband ever again," he said Tuesday afternoon.

Bill Flores (R-Texas), who urged repealing the rules, argued that the FTC already has jurisdiction over privacy. "Two cops on the beat create confusion," he said.

Despite Flores' statement, a federal appellate court ruled recently that the FTC lacks jurisdiction to bring enforcement actions against broadband providers.

2 comments about "House Repeals Broadband Privacy Rules".
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  1. Tom Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, March 29, 2017 at 6:37 p.m.

    Online privacy activist Adam McElhaney has already launched an initiative to raise funds to buy the browser histoy of every politican and official who voted in favor of this onerous piece of legislation. He's also taking a poll asking contributors whose internet history they'd like to see first. Law of unintended consequences.....

  2. Fraser E from Opinions expressed herein are solely my own, March 29, 2017 at 9:50 p.m.

    Guess what, folks?  It wasn't the PRIVACY act, it was the Cybersecurity act, and it traded your privacy in an attempt to obtain security.   They can "buy your browser history" the same way anyone else does, in pools of anonymized aggregated data.  If they come for your personal browser history with a warrant, they have to limit their search and seizure to ONLY what they came for, among other conditions, just like before.  The overturned Cybersecurity (not Privacy) Act held the door wide open for them to collect and use all the data they want to, whether it represented the activity they were currently searching for or not, and whether any of it is even currently illegal or not. It allowed data mining at its Big Brother worst, but here we are, up in arms because motherjones has convinced everyone that meanyhead trump "sold our browser history", when in fact it's being reclaimed after it was given away.

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