Fight breaks out over internet privacy repeal at hearing

Fight breaks out over internet privacy repeal at hearing
© Greg Nash

House members clashed during a hearing on Wednesday over the recent repeal of Obama-era internet privacy regulations.

A House Energy and Commerce technology subcommittee hearing focusing on the wireless spectrum economy took a detour when the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), used his opening statement to lash out at the repeal, passed by Republicans and signed by President Trump on Monday.

“Congress didn’t act with much deliberation,” Doyle said. “We didn’t hold hearings or mark up any bills. We rammed through legislation under the Congressional Review Act [CRA] — a blunt, draconian instrument — to smash these rules, the only real legal protections that prevented internet service providers from using and abusing our data.”

The bill eliminated a set of Obama-era Federal Communications Commission regulations that required internet service providers to get their customers’ permission before using their data for advertising. It used the CRA, which allows lawmakers to repeal regulations and prohibit agencies from replacing them with similar ones.

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Doyle singled out one of the hearing’s witnesses, Scott Bergmann, a vice president of the telecom lobbying group CTIA — formerly known as the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association — for leading the push to pass the bill.

“I’m extremely disappointed that an organization representing the wireless industry, which this committee has worked hard to support and foster, would act in such a selfish and irresponsible way,” Doyle said. 

“I expect more from you and your members, and the American people expect more from you and your members. It’s not lost on me or members of this subcommittee that your association’s support for this CRA means that no federal agency can stop your members from selling people’s information.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the full committee, shot back, admonishing Democrats for overlooking the fact that the rules did not cover web companies like Google, which account for much of the internet’s advertising market.

“My friend from Pennsylvania, I’m glad you’re on the subcommittee, but boy, we’ve got to have some education here, because that’s where the searches are. That’s not covered by the rule that you embraced, that you’re upset that we repealed,” Walden said.

Congressional Republicans narrowly pushed through the repeal bill without any support from Democrats, prompting widespread criticism from privacy and consumer advocates.

The GOP and the telecom industry argued that the rules should be eliminated because they subject internet service providers to restrictions not faced by others web companies.