House Republicans Vote To Let Your Internet Service Provider Share Your Web History
The change could also expose your Social Security number and information pertaining to your children and health.
JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERSFormer Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai
Source: Huffington Post | by Dana Liebelson
Update: On Tuesday, the House voted 215-205 largely on party lines to pass the measure repealing the privacy rules. It will now head to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature.
WASHINGTON ― The Republican-led Congress is jamming through a measure to overturn the Obama administration’s rules that would have banned telecom and cable companies from sharing customers’ personal information, including web browsing history, without their consent.
The House is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday. Its companion passed the Senate last week on a 50-48 vote, largely on party lines. If the House passes the bill and President Donald Trump signs it into law, internet service providers will win a regulatory victory. But advocates say consumers can kiss network privacy goodbye.
“ISPs will be able to sell your personal information to the highest bidder...and they won’t have any real obligation to keep your personal information secure, either,” said Gigi Sohn, who served as counselor to former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler from November 2013 to December 2016.
The FCC adopted rules last October that required companies like Comcast and Verizon to get their customers’ explicit permission before they could share “sensitive” data like Social Security numbers, information pertaining to children, or health information. Under the rules — which are not yet in effect — companies also had to tell customers and law enforcement if a potentially harmful data breach occurred. (Verizon is the parent company of The Huffington Post.)
The bill uses the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to undo any regulation within 60 days of its finalization, while also barring agencies from writing a “substantially” similar rule after the original one has been overturned. That means there’s a chance the FCC might be banned from regulating ISP privacy issues in the future, said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a grassroots group.
Trump ran a populist campaign, but his vision for the FCC, a government agency that is supposed to protect consumers from predatory telecom and cable companies, is shaping up to be the opposite, consumer advocates say. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has also opposed the Obama administration’s privacy rules as commissioner.
The rules drew concern from staff of the bureau of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission when they were proposed. They noted that the rules “would impose a number of specific requirements ... that would not generally apply to other services that collect and use significant amount of consumer data. This outcome is not optimal.”
But the FCC “ultimately incorporated the vast majority of the FTCs suggested changes to the rules, and the FTC in fact supported the final rules,” according to Sohn.
Internet service providers say it’s not fair that they have to be subject to regulations that tech giants like Facebook and Google, which the FTC oversees, don’t have to follow. Republicans have argued in favor of a privacy framework based on the FTC’s approach. But the rules by that agency moderate industry behavior after harm occurs, according to Sohn — while the FCC’s regulations have the power to protect consumers before they are harmed.
Advocates, as well as Democrats, say that it doesn’t make sense to regulate an ISP ― which has access to everything a person does online ― like Google, which only sees some of a person’s internet traffic. As a consumer, “if I don’t like the practices of Google, I can go to Bing; if I don’t like the practices of Bing, I can go to Firefox,” Wheeler told The Huffington Post. “But if I don’t like the practice of my network provider, I’m out of luck,” the former FCC chairman added.
He said that “consumers have entered into a business relationship with ISPs that ISPs are now seeking to change ... [but] it’s not their information, it’s the consumers’ information.
Overturning the rules would be a win for the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, a group that former Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz leads, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbying in the past few years and is backed by telecom companies.
“I can’t tell you [the bill] is not repealing privacy regulations, it’s a pretty blunt instrument of repeal, CRA” Leibowitz told the HuffPost. But he said, “in a very partisan Washington, where often the only choices are binary, the FCC passed a very flawed regulation, one that was criticized by the FTC, my former agency.”
He argued that if the bill is enacted, the FCC can still continue to protect privacy, and can write another rule, “if that rule takes a different approach.” When asked whether he thought a repeal would improve privacy for consumers, he said only that the proposed rule will “increase costs to consumers and reduce choices, and reduce competition for privacy.”
But consumer advocates aren’t buying it. “It’s special interest lobbying as usual,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Segal of Demand Progress said, “these companies are just trying to exploit consumers’ data towards ends of private profit.”
The bill is expected to pass, but its critics aren’t giving up hope. As of Monday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it was opposed to the measure and would be pushing for Congress members to vote against it. The office of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), first vice chair of that caucus, also noted that they had received a fair amount of calls and emails in opposition to removing the rule. “Considering how much access providers already have to highly sensitive data, it is absolutely unacceptable for them to monetize personal information,” Pocan said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday asked ISPs to weigh in on the measure.
“Republicans have picked the week after Russian spies were caught hacking into half a billion American email accounts to overturn the requirement that internet service providers keep their sensitive data secured from cybercriminals,” she said.