Congress Allows ISPs to Sell Customers' Browsing History

The latest blow to internet privacy

On March 27, the U.S House of Representatives voted on a resolution to remove internet service provider (ISP) privacy rules passed last year. One week earlier, the U.S Senate voted to do the same. Soon, the legislation will reach President Donald Trump, where he will either sign or veto it. A veto is unlikely, as the White House has issued a statement that their advisors will recommend Trump sign it.

The President will likely remove the rules which require ISPs to get a customer's explicit consent before selling or sharing their web browsing data and private information with advertisers or other companies. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the rules, which will go into effect December 4, 2017. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that removing these rules will make privacy easier for customers, as each ISP and online company has its own set of privacy rules.

House votes to remove the privacy rules were 215 to 205, with most Republicans for and all Democrats against. Furthermore, the Senate has ensured that the FCC’s rulemaking will have no effect using the Congressional Review Act. This also prevents the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future.

Under the rules, ISPs would have to take reasonable steps in protecting their customers’ information from theft and data breaches. This section should have taken effect on March 2, but the FCC’s new Republican majority stopped it. A set of requirements for notifications for data breaches is still scheduled to start on June 2, should the rules survive.

“News of the resolution is headline worthy, but there will be no change from the privacy we have now.”

Republicans believe that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the FCC, should have authority over ISP privacy practices. The FCC recently classified ISPs and phone companies as common carriers which cannot be regulated by the FTC. Congress or the FCC can still change that. News of the resolution is headline worthy, but there will be no change from the privacy we have now. After all, the rules never went into effect.