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Trump Just Gave Broadband Giants Permission to Sell Your Private Data

The federal government’s broadband privacy rules are officially dead.

President Trump delivered a major gift to the nation's largest cable and phone companies on Monday by signing a bill that kills federal rules designed to protect consumers from broadband industry privacy abuses.

By nullifying the Federal Communications Commission's landmark 2016 privacy protections, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have given broadband companies a green light to track and sell private user information to advertisers, without consumer permission.

Public interest advocates and privacy watchdogs responded with fury late Monday, and accused Trump and his Republican allies in Congress of putting the interests of highly-profitable corporate giants ahead of the interests of the American people.

"It's amazing that the top priority of the Trump administration is taking away people's privacy protections," Craig Aaron, President and CEO of DC-based public interest group Free Press, told Motherboard. "There is absolutely no public support for this. The only organizations advocating for the repeal of these rules were the nation's largest broadband companies."

The FCC rules, which were set to go into effect later this year, would have required broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to obtain "opt-in" consent from consumers before using, sharing, or selling private data, including financial information, social security numbers, browsing history, mobile app data, and emails and online chats.

Aaron called Trump's decision to sign the FCC privacy rollback just the latest example of the current White House doing the bidding of corporate interests at the expense of consumers. Since taking office, Trump has worked aggressively to reverse federal safeguards across broad swaths of the economy, including rules protecting the environment, public health, and consumer interests.

"Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, but it didn't take long for the swamp to drain him."

Trump's action came just days after Republican lawmakers rammed the measure through both the Senate and the House on partisan lines using a controversial legislative tool called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is designed to reverse recently-approved regulations. Resolutions passed under the CRA cannot be filibustered, and prohibit the agency in question, in this case the FCC, from adopting "substantially similar" rules in the future.

"With his quiet signature today, President Trump has signed away the only rules that guarantee Americans a choice in whether or not their sensitive internet information is sold or given away," Chris Lewis, vice president at DC-based digital rights group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. He added that "the only agency with jurisdiction over broadband providers, the FCC, is now prohibited from creating similar rules to protect consumers in the future."

Not a single Democrat in either chamber voted for the measure. But some 15 Republican House members broke ranks with party leadership to vote against the bill—perhaps because they'd rather not explain to voters in 2018 why they sold out their constituents' privacy protections.

The resolution's passage on Capitol Hill last week provoked a fierce backlash from consumer advocates and privacy watchdogs. In response, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T rushed to assure consumers that their privacy is protected. And Comcast and Verizon flatly denied that they plan to sell the browsing history of individual consumers. Now that the FCC's privacy rules have been killed, consumers should ask just how much they trust these corporate giants.

Read More: How to Protect the Internet

The nation's largest broadband companies launched a robust lobbying effort to roll back the policy, which they claimed was unfair because it doesn't apply to so-called "edge providers" like Google and Facebook, which are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But instead of fighting to bolster the FTC's privacy policy to create a level playing field, Trump and his GOP allies instead chose to eliminate the FCC's more robust protections.

"Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, but it didn't take long for the swamp to drain him," Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, a public interest group, said in a statement. "The only people in the United States who want less internet privacy are CEOs and lobbyists for giant telecom companies who want to rake in money by spying on all of us and selling the private details of our lives to marketing companies."

A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 83 percent of Americans across party lines believe that broadband companies should not be allowed to share or sell private consumer information without asking for permission. And 74 percent of the poll's respondents said that Trump should veto the FCC privacy rollback bill.

"This is the Trump administration once again showing its true colors," said Aaron of Free Press. "They will move mountains when it comes to doing favors for the nation's biggest corporations no matter how many millions of people across the political spectrum oppose their policies."

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