Marsha Blackburn Sitting

Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Congress may overturn Obama-era privacy rules for internet providers

Republicans say the rules are hurting internet providers' bottom lines.


Amrita Khalid


Posted on Mar 9, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 9:18 pm CDT

Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration’s newly appointed Federal Communications Commission leadership are moving to kill restrictions on how internet service providers can share the private information of customers.

Both chambers of Congress filed legislation this week that would repeal an FCC rule that would require internet providers to ask consumers for permission before using personal data such as geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, and browsing history for advertising purposes.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) introduced a resolution on Tuesday under the Congressional Review Act that would block the FCC rule. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) filed a companion bill to block the FCC broadband rule on Wednesday. Blackburn has filed an entire slew of bills this year that would undo FCC regulations established under President Barack Obama, including one would undo net neutrality.

Flake in a statement on his website called the FCC broadband rule “economically harmful.”

“The FCC’s midnight regulation does nothing to protect consumer privacy. It is unnecessary, confusing, and adds yet another innovation-stifling regulation to the internet,”  said Flake.

The legislation falls in line with moves from Ajit Pai—the new FCC Commissioner appointed by President Donald Trump—to loosen the government’s hold on broadband providers. Pai claims that the Obama administration’s broadband privacy rule would subject broadband providers to stricter privacy standards than websites like Facebook or Twitter.

Last month, Pai issued a stay that block the FCC’s implementation of the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect on March 2.

Critics warn that overturning the FCC broadband rules will result in more uncertainty and less privacy. Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), said blocking the rule also subjects internet customers to greater security risk.

“The broadband privacy rule is the only protection for internet users’ sensitive information—including browsing history and location information—in the hands of ISPs,” Calabrese said in a statement. “Staying the rules will expose internet users to increased risks that their private information will be shared without their consent, or breached without their knowledge.”

Calabrese criticized Congress for using the Congressional Review Act to kill Obama-era FCC regulations, arguing that it eliminates the FCC’s role in reviewing input from stakeholders and carefully reviewing its rules.

“A CRA measure would prevent the Commission from extending any ‘substantially similar’ privacy protections to internet users in the future,” Calabrese said. “It would also prematurely end the Commission’s efforts to hear from all stakeholders in the proceeding and come to a carefully considered solution.”

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*First Published: Mar 9, 2017, 11:30 am CST