Senate votes to block internet privacy regulations

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday in a 50-48 party line vote that would dismantle a set of internet privacy rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year.

The rules, which the FCC passed in a party-line vote in October, require internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon to obtain customers’ permission before using their personal information for advertising purposes.

ADVERTISEMENT
If passed by the House and signed by President Trump, the bill would use an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to eliminate the rules before they go into effect. The CRA would also prevent the FCC from passing “substantially similar” regulations in the future, though no court has ruled on what agencies can pass under those standards.

Critics of the privacy regulations say they are too onerous, and subject service providers to stricter regulations than websites such as Facebook and Google, which also collect consumer data.

The vote immediately drew criticism from privacy and consumer advocates like the ACLU, Public Knowledge and Free Press, while trade groups praised the move.
 
In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, said the FCC regulations were an example of a “bureaucratic power grab.”

“Passing this CRA will send a powerful message that federal agencies can’t unilaterally restrict constitutional rights and expect to get away with it,” Flake said.

Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans Hillicon Valley: Mueller indicts Russians for DNC hack | US officially lifts ZTE ban | AT&T CEO downplays merger challenge | Microsoft asks for rules on facial recognition technology | Dems want probe into smart TVs Dems push FTC to investigate smart TVs over privacy concerns MORE (Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight House passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS MORE (Ore.) railed against the measure on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, saying it would leave consumers vulnerable.

“Passing [the resolution] will take consumers out of this driver’s seat and place the collection and use of their information behind a veil of secrecy, despite rhetoric surrounding our debate today suggesting that eliminating these common-sense rules will better protect consumers’ privacy online or will eliminate consumer confusion,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPolling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Election security bill picks up new support in Senate Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing MORE (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result of the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections," Markey said in a statement after the vote.
 
“With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission," he continued.
 
"The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them."

The vote was a major win for the internet service providers who have been pushing the Trump administration to undo rules passed under Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s previous chairman. The new CRA action is also the latest in the deregulatory campaign the GOP has undertaken since gaining control of the White House.

Before Trump took office, the CRA had only been used once before, during the early days of President George W. Bush’s administration. But in February alone, Trump signed three more CRA bills, overturning rules that would have prevented some mentally ill people from buying guns, protected waterways from coal pollution and required mining and drilling companies to disclose certain financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

If the privacy rules were to go into effect, consumers would have to give their consent for service providers to use and share “sensitive information” such as location tracking, social security numbers, browsing data and app usage.

Updated 1:30 p.m.