Week ahead in tech: GOP takes aim at internet privacy rules

Week ahead in tech: GOP takes aim at internet privacy rules
© Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans are moving against the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules.

In recent days, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have offered legislation to roll back the Obama-era measures, with bills from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the chairwoman of the House Commerce subpanel on communication and technology.

Both bills aim to kill the rules using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Republicans to block rules with only a simple majority in both chambers.

The FCC's privacy rules were approved under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, in October, and bar internet service providers from collecting "sensitive" consumer data like browsing information and app usage data without their customers' express consent.

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But Congress has only 60 legislative days after the regulations were approved to roll them back using the CRA. That timeline means Flake and Blackburn have until mid-May to get their measures through Congress.

So far, things are moving in the right direction for opponents of the privacy rules.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCompromise is the key to moving forward after Trump's first 100 days Juan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP Judd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs MORE (R-Ky.) signed on to Flake's measure as a co-sponsor.

A spokesperson for House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told The Hill on Friday that Walden supports Blackburn's measure, as well. Blackburn already has the entire House telecommunications subcommittee on as co-sponsors.

Critics of the FCC's privacy rules say it clashes with privacy regulations already on the books from the Federal Trade Commission. And they say that it subjects internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast to different rules than internet companies like Facebook or Google.

Democrats, consumer groups and privacy advocates, though, have blasted Republicans for moving to eliminate the rules, saying it will leave consumers' data unprotected in an era of mass hacks.

Also, on the docket, expect more talk over filling the FCC's two vacant seats.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was renominated to another five-year term by the Trump administration on Tuesday. In addition to confirming Pai, there are still spots for Trump to tap another Republican commissioner and one more Democratic commissioner.

Trump, though, withdraw the pending nomination of former Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to a second term.

Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerGOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat Dems: Trump risks government shutdown over border wall Miners' union shouldn't look to feds to bail out mismanaged pension fund MORE (D-N.Y.), though are likely to push the administration to renominate Rosenworcel. Its possible, Senate Republicans will hold off on confirming Pai to his new term, until Trump makes his final two nominations.

Off the Hill, several groups will be holding tech focused events in the week ahead. On Monday, the Information Technology Industry Council will be holding a panel  on tax reform at Google's D.C. office. It will feature Barbara Angus, chief tax counsel of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Mark Prater, deputy staff director and chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.

On Tuesday, the Free State Foundation will be hosting its annual telecom policy conference featuring a slew of heavyweight speakers in technology politics and policy. Some big names who will be speaking include Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Chairman Mike LeeMike LeeTrump should work with Congress to block regulations on prepaid cards Sweeping change at DOJ under Sessions Executive orders alone can't create sustainable deregulatory change MORE (R-Utah), House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairwoman Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump transition members urge Rice to testify Tech faces public anger over internet privacy repeal Overnight Tech: GOP faces backlash over internet privacy repeal | AT&T lands .5B contract for first responder network | Tech knocks Trump climate order MORE (R-Tenn.) FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen.

In Austin, Texas, the SXSW's festival that focuses on technology, kicked off on Friday. The annual gathering of major players in tech is sporting a political focus this year, spurred by Trump's election.

The event features a speaker/discussion series on "Tech Under Trump." Major political speakers at SXSW include former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road AACR’s march on Washington MORE, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and CNN's Van Jones.