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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony McCarthy, McConnell say they didn't watch Jan. 6 hearing 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 SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? 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 LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary Trio of Senate Republicans urges Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE (R-Utah), House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairwoman Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Biden's misinformation crackdown spotlights partisan divide on content reform White House looks to cool battle with Facebook 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 BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and CNN's Van Jones.