Dem senator pushes back against GOP efforts to rescind internet privacy rules

Dem senator pushes back against GOP efforts to rescind internet privacy rules
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Democratic Sen. Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee Overnight Energy & Environment — Manchin raises hopes on climate spending Warren, Democrats ask federal government to resume tracking breakthrough cases MORE and several advocacy groups pushed back Monday against Republican efforts to curtail recent internet privacy regulations.

In a call with reporters Monday, the Massachusetts senator said he would oppose any legislative efforts to weaken broadband privacy and said the free market won’t protect consumers.

“Many consumers are essentially captive to their [internet service providers],” Markey said on the call. “Many Americans across the country only have access to a couple ISPs to choose from and simply cannot change service providers if their privacy protections are not transparent or robust.”


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Free Press, Color of Change, and Consumers Union were also a part of the call. Their remarks come as Republicans begin to take action against Obama-era broadband privacy rules. 

Late last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he would block a portion of the privacy rules passed in October under former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, set to take effect in early March.

The rules would have forced broadband providers to obtain customer permission before they acquired information deemed “sensitive,” like web browsing data and app usage history.

The privacy rules followed Wheeler's landmark net neutrality regulation. Net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally and prevents internet service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer access or giving certain companies’ websites priority.

Under those rules, the FCC reclassified internet service providers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to treat them similarly to public utilities. That move also gave the FCC the authority to pass its privacy rules.

But net neutrality, including the reclassification move, has been broadly opposed by conservatives and the telecom industry.

On the congressional side, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (R-Ariz.) said earlier in February that he intends to try to attack the broadband privacy rules via the Congressional Review Act — through which the GOP can nix regulations put into place at the end of President Obama’s term.  

“Killing the FCC privacy rule with a CRA would open up an unregulated Wild West where consumers would have no defense against abusive invasions of their privacy by their internet service provider,” Markey said on the call.

The senator also said that cutting broadband privacy protections could endanger internet service providers’ reclassification.

Top Republicans have said undoing how the FCC's classifies internet service providers under Title II is a priority in their broader plans for scaling back net neutrality.

“That would be a perfect kind of Trump-era argument: ‘Oh look, there is no protection under Title II any longer ... Therefore wouldn’t it make sense to reclassify?’” Markey said. “That would be an Orwellian argument that doesn’t, of course, answer the question of why you want to repeal the power the Federal Communications Commission has right now.”

Critics of Title II, including some net neutrality supporters, have contended that it goes too far in regulating internet service providers by inhibiting their ability to cut deals with content providers to give consumers data-free content and from making money off consumer data in the way that internet companies can. 

Two of the advocacy groups, the ACLU and Color of Change, focused their attention on the potential harms rolling back broadband privacy could have on marginalized communities.

“At the end of the day, without these rules consumers are the ones that are going to be harmed the most,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel at the ACLU. “These harms may be disproportionately borne by poor communities and other vulnerable communities.” 

Anika Collier Navaroli, a senior campaign manager at Color of Change, echoed Guliani’s predictions for how minority communities would be affected by such changes.

“For marginalized communities, this restriction on automatic data collection was essential. For black folks, people of color and children, even if some of this data may seem innocuous, the data could easily become proxy for protected class and for sensitive information,” Navaroli said, arguing that without broadband privacy protections, ISPs could prey on protected groups.

“The ruling took a firm stance in disallowing protection from data collection only for those who could afford to opt out,” she continued, highlighting that rules kept internet providers from employing “pay-for-privacy schemes.”