House passes bill undoing Obama internet privacy rule

The House on Tuesday voted in favor of blocking internet privacy rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year, sending the bill to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill passed 215 to 205, with 15 Republicans joining 190 Democrats voting against it.

The FCC rules would have given consumers greater control over what their internet service provider can do with their data by requiring those companies to get permission from customers before using their information to create targeted advertisements.

The rules had not yet gone into effect.

The bill, which passed the Senate last week in a party-line vote, invokes a law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that allows Congress to undo recently passed regulations. A CRA bill also prohibits agencies from passing similar regulations in the future.

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The White House has said that it supports the bill.

The opposition to the regulations was led by Republicans and the telecom industry, who argue that they are too costly and confusing. They say the rules would have subjected internet service providers to restrictions that do not apply to websites like Facebook and Google, which also collect consumer information for data-driven ads.

“The FCC didn’t embrace a technology-neutral framework for privacy,” Jon Leibowitz, co-chair of the industry group 21st Century Privacy Coalition, said in a call with reporters Tuesday.

“It instead set out an overbroad definition of sensitive data that doesn’t apply to non-ISP’s collecting as much or more personal data online. And as we all know, privacy shouldn’t be about who collects information, it should be about what information is collected and how it is used.”

But Democrats and privacy advocates say that the rules would have been a step toward protecting consumer privacy, and that service providers should not have free reign to sell data to advertisers.

“Your broadband provider knows deeply personal information about you and your family – where you are, what you want to know, every site you visit, and more,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement before the vote Tuesday.

“They can even track you when you’re surfing in a private browsing mode. You deserve to be able to insist that those intimate details be kept private and secure.”

After the vote, Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyNet neutrality supporters predict tough court battle over FCC's repeal plan Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Driverless car bill hits Senate speed bump MORE (D-Mass.) announced that he intends to introduce a bill instructing the FCC to reinstate privacy rules.

The privacy rules were passed under the authority that the FCC gained from its landmark 2015 net neutrality rules. Those rules prohibited internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic to certain websites.

The net neutrality rules also reclassified service providers as common carriers, which means they were subject to tougher regulations from the FCC — like the privacy rules.

The vote was immediately condemned by activists and applauded by industry groups.

“It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans," ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Giuliani said in a statement. "Trump should use his power to protect everyone’s right to privacy.”

“Today’s action is another step to remove unnecessary rules and regulations that handicap economic growth and innovation, and moves the country one step closer to ensuring that consumers’ private information is protected uniformly across the entire internet ecosystem," countered Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom. "Consumers can rest easy today knowing their privacy is protected under existing FCC authority, which requires companies to keep consumers’ data safe."

If the rules were to go into effect, they would classify certain consumer data as “sensitive” — like browsing history, app usage and financial and medical information — and require service providers to ask permission before using it for advertising.

Customers would also be able to opt out of letting those companies use and share “non-sensitive” information.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who opposed the rules as a minority commissioner in October, applauded the vote in a statement, saying that he will work to impose a technology-neutral privacy regime.
 
“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework," Pai said. 
 
"In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

Democrats and activists waged a furious campaign against the bill, trying to peg Republicans as anti-privacy.

An advocacy group called Fight for the Future pledged to put up billboards in Washington and other areas calling out those who voted to repeal the rules.

And Tuesday, Pelosi called on the largest internet service providers to state whether they are in favor of the CRA bill.

“Americans learned last week that agents of Russian intelligence hacked into e-mail accounts to obtain secrets on American companies, government officials and more,” Pelosi wrote in letters to 11 companies. 

“This resolution would not only end the requirement you take reasonable measures to protect consumers’ sensitive information, but prevents the FCC from enacting a similar requirement and leaves no other agency capable of protecting consumers.”