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Senate Passes Resolution to Roll Back Privacy Rules

Posted on Mar 23, 2017

  Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey argues against Joint Res. 34, which overturns a rule requiring internet service providers to get permission before they share consumer data. (Screen shot via CSPAN)

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to roll back Obama-era internet privacy regulations, a major step in dismantling the Federal Communications Commission’s consumer protection laws.

Senate Joint Resolution 34 is a repeal a 2016 FCC regulation requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to get consumer permission before sharing user data with third parties. Tech blog BGR explains:

The measure being considered in the Senate is called a resolution of disapproval, and serves to overturn rules made by a federal agency. Prior to this year, resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) had only been used once, but Republican lawmakers have been busy since January using the move to overturn rules made by the outgoing President’s administration.

Under the current FCC rules, websites you visit are free to track your behavior and sell that data to ad-targeting networks, ISPs are (currently) forced to get customer permission before doing the same. If Flake’s resolution passes, that safeguard will be abolished. The resolution has the backing of 34 other senators so far, so it seems likely to pass.

Assuming the resolution passes, ISPs will be able to collect location, financial, healthcare and browsing data from customers by default. There will likely still be a privacy opt-out, which will allow customers who want to trawl through a website to opt out of having data collected, but the changes will nonetheless affect the vast majority of consumers.

The proposal passed 50-48, one day after senators debated the measure. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a longtime advocate for net neutrality, tweeted Thursday that the GOP had just “voted to make it easier for sensitive info about your health, finances & family to be sold to highest bidder.”

The vote comes as many net neutrality advocates express concern over the future of the FCC and privacy rights. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the FCC under President Trump and a former lawyer for Verizon, has called net neutrality “a mistake.”

Pai supported the joint resolution. Its opponents include numerous senators and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon,” the ACLU stated Thursday after the vote. “The House must now stop this resolution from moving forward and stand up for our privacy rights.”

What do you think will happen to net neutrality under the Trump administration? Tune in to “Live at Truthdig” at 1 p.m. PST / 4 p.m. EST for a live discussion with Jessica J. González, deputy director and senior counsel for Free Press. Have a question about privacy rights and net neutrality? Leave it in the comments below.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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