U.S. Se­nate votes to undo rules cov­er­ing In­ter­net pri­vacy

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Brian Fung Wash­ing­ton Post

Se­nate law­mak­ers voted Thurs­day to re­peal a his­toric set of rules aimed at pro­tect­ing con­sumers’ on­line data from their own In­ter­net providers.

The rules, which pro­hibit providers from abus­ing the data they gather on their cus­tomers as they browse the Web on cell­phones and com­put­ers, were ap­proved last year over ob­jec­tions from Repub­li­cans who ar­gued the reg­u­la­tions went too far.

Now, a joint res­o­lu­tion from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., seeks to roll back the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s pri­vacy rules, pre­vent­ing them from go­ing into ef­fect and bar­ring the FCC from ever en­act­ing sim­i­lar con­sumer pro­tec­tions.

U.S. se­na­tors voted by a 50-48 mar­gin to ap­prove Flake’s res­o­lu­tion. It now heads to the House.

In­dus­try groups wel­comed the vote.

“Our in­dus­try re­mains com­mit­ted to of­fer­ing ser­vices that pro­tect the pri­vacy and se­cu­rity of the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of our cus­tomers,” said NCTA — The In­ter­net and Tele­vi­sion As­so­ci­a­tion, a trade group rep­re­sent­ing ma­jor ca­ble providers. “We sup­port this step to­wards re­vers­ing the FCC’s mis­guided ap­proach and look for­ward to restor­ing a con­sis­tent ap­proach to on­line pri­vacy pro­tec­tion that con­sumers want and de­serve.”

The FCC’s rules are be­ing de­bated as In­ter­net providers — no longer sat­is­fied with sim­ply of­fer­ing Web ac­cess — race to be­come on­line ad­ver­tis­ing gi­ants as large as Google and Face­book. To de­liver con­sumers from one web­site to an­other, In­ter­net providers must see and un­der­stand which on­line des­ti­na­tions their cus­tomers wish to visit, whether that’s Netflix, We­bMD or PornHub.

With that data, In­ter­net providers would like to sell tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing or even share that in­for­ma­tion with third-party mar­keters. But the FCC’s reg­u­la­tions place cer­tain lim­its on the type of data In­ter­net providers can share and un­der what cir­cum­stances. Un­der the rules, con­sumers may for­bid their providers from shar­ing what the FCC deems “sen­si­tive” in­for­ma­tion, such as app us­age his­tory and mo­bile lo­ca­tion data.

Op­po­nents of the reg­u­la­tion ar­gue the FCC’s def­i­ni­tion of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion is far too broad and that it cre­ates an im­bal­ance be­tween what’s ex­pected of In­ter­net providers and what’s al­lowed for Web com­pa­nies such as Google. Sep­a­rately from Congress, crit­ics of the mea­sure have pe­ti­tioned the FCC to re­con­sider let­ting the rules go into ef­fect, and the agency’s new Repub­li­can lead­er­ship has partly com­plied. In Fe­bru­ary, Pres­i­dent Trump’s FCC chair­man, Ajit Pai, put a hold on a slice of the rules that would have forced In­ter­net providers to bet­ter safe­guard their cus­tomer data from hack­ers.

The con­gres­sional res­o­lu­tion could make any fur­ther ac­tion by the FCC to re­view the rules un­nec­es­sary; Flake’s mea­sure aims to nul­lify the FCC’s pri­vacy rules al­to­gether. Repub­li­cans ar­gue that even if the FCC’s power to make rules on In­ter­net pri­vacy is cur­tailed, state at­tor­neys gen­eral and the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion could still hold In­ter­net providers ac­count­able for fu­ture pri­vacy abuses.

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