Here’s How Republicans Aim to Kill FCC Rules Protecting Consumer Privacy
It’s the latest GOP effort to roll-back Obama-era rules protecting consumers.
The nation's largest broadband companies, including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, hate federal rules approved last year that require them to obtain "opt-in" consent before using, sharing, or selling private consumer data.
Flake's action, which was expected, is just the latest attempt by the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress to undermine and eliminate scores of regulations across broad swaths of the economy that protect the environment, public health, and consumer welfare.
Consumer advocates blasted Flake's resolution as a disingenuous give-away to the broadband industry that will leave consumers vulnerable to the predations of internet service providers (ISPs) desperate to "monetize" sensitive consumer data to fatten their bottom lines.
"The broadband privacy rule was an important victory for internet users," Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now, a leading digital rights group, said in a statement. "Customers pay for access to the internet, but broadband providers want to collect personal data and sell it to make a second profit off their users."
"Passing this bill will leave a huge gap in consumer privacy protections with no end in sight."
Flake's CRA resolution goes much further, and scraps the entire FCC privacy package, including the central rule that requires ISPs to obtain "opt-in" consent from consumers before using or selling sensitive user data, including online browsing activity, mobile app data, and emails and online chats.
"If the sponsors of this resolution were serious about protecting your private information on the internet, the last thing they'd do is move to dismantle rules protecting it from unauthorized use and abuse by cable and phone companies," Matt Wood, Policy Director at DC-based public interest group Free Press, said in a statement.
The Congressional Review Act, which was passed in 1996 as part of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich's so-called "Contract With America," is an extremely rare legislative maneuver. Until last month, it had only been deployed successfully once, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule in 2001. Now, Republicans are using the CRA to target dozens of federal regulations protecting the environment, consumers, and public health.
"Passing this bill will leave a huge gap in consumer privacy protections with no end in sight, and no future relief from the FCC," Dallas Harris, Policy Fellow at DC-based digital rights group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.
This "level playing field" argument has been parroted by Republicans at the FCC and in Congress. But consumer advocates say this is just a smokescreen intended to justify the elimination of rules designed to protect consumers.
"Lawmakers claim they just want to make sure that all internet companies play by the same rules," said Matt Wood, of Free Press. "But instead of moving in Congress to strengthen the privacy laws that apply to every company on the internet, these senators propose ditching the current law and letting ISPs profit more easily off of your private data."
Flake's resolution must be approved by a simple majority of both houses of Congress. It will then be sent to the White House, where President Trump is very likely to sign it.
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