Dems raise alarms on White House privacy plan

House Democrats are voicing concerns that an expected White House plan to protect people’s online privacy could actually undermine it.

As soon as this week, the White House is expected to unveil new legislation aiming to protect people’s privacy, but the plan could cripple the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ability to safeguard people’s online history, Democrats feared on Wednesday.

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“This proposal by the White House sounds like it would severely undercut the FCC’s authority to prevent [Internet service providers] from using their position in the marketplace to do things like charging subscribers not to have their browsing history data monitored or setting ‘supercookies’ that allow users to be identified and tracked across the Internet,” said Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief House Democrats request briefings on Iranian cyber threats from DHS, FCC Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash MORE (D-Pa.).

Details of the White House’s plan have not yet been made public, nor have they been shared with lawmakers, said the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.).

However, Pallone said that the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Lawrence Strickling, had told him on Tuesday that the plan “would effectively strip the FCC of its ability to regulate consumer privacy.”

Phone and Internet service companies would be able to exempt themselves from FCC rules limiting them from using or distributing people’s information so long as they took part in a “self-regulated privacy code of conduct” created through collaboration with industry, government and outside officials.

If the plan is not changed before it is issued, that could lead to outrage from privacy supporters.

“I think this could be an enormous problem for consumers who have relied on the authority to protect their own personal privacy online and their own viewing habits,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the Public Knowledge advocacy group.

Concerns about companies tracking people’s online behavior have risen with growing knowledge about the world of  “data brokers,” who market in people’s behavior in order to target advertisements to them. New disclosures about a "supercookie” used by Verizon have only raised the stakes.

The White House bill is part of a broad effort to create new protections for Americans’ privacy and digital data this year. 

The remarks on Wednesday came during a hearing on net neutrality.