Republican Lawmaker Introduces New Online Privacy Bill

The same lawmaker who spearheaded the effort to repeal the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules is now pushing a bill that could limit all online companies' ability to share data about users.

H.R. 2520, introduced Thursday by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), would require Internet service providers as well as "edge" providers like Google, Netflix, Facebook and Amazon to clearly and conspicuously inform consumers about how their data is used.

The bill also requires companies to give users the right to opt out of having non-sensitive data disclosed, and requires companies to obtain opt-in consent before sharing sensitive information -- including Web browsing history.* No Senators have yet proposed a companion bill, according to Axios.



The FCC passed broadband privacy rules in 2015, but they were repealed by Congress before taking effect. Those rules would have required broadband providers to obtain subscribers' opt-in consent before drawing on their Web-browsing activity for ad targeting.

The FCC's rules would only have applied to broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon, but not edge providers like Google, Amazon, or ad networks. Edge providers typically allow consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but don't require opt-in consent unless they plan to serve ads based on a narrow category of "sensitive" data -- like financial account numbers or health information.

Blackburn's proposed law -- which could put the kibosh on a growing effort by state legislatures to pass their own privacy regulations -- is already facing criticism from at least one advocate. Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, calls the proposal "a legislative Trojan Horse whose real intent is to kill off strong privacy safeguards."

Currently, around a dozen states are considering imposing new requirements on broadband providers; at least some of those measures recreate the FCC's 2015 privacy rules, but on the state level.

Already, Seattle passed rules prohibiting cable companies from disclosing customers' Web-browsing activity for ad purposes without their opt-in consent. That measure is slated to take effect on Wednesday.

*This column has been updated to reflect that Blackburn's bill would require Internet service providers as well as edge providers to obtain users' opt-in consent before disclosing their Web browsing history for ad targeting purposes.  

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