House votes to block on­line pri­vacy rule

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Freking

The House voted Tuesday to block on­line pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions is­sued dur­ing the fi­nal months of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, a first step to­ward al­low­ing in­ter­net providers such as Com­cast, AT&T and Ver­i­zon to sell the brows­ing habits of their cus­tomers.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion rule was de­signed to give con­sumers greater con­trol over how in­ter­net ser­vice providers share in­for­ma­tion. But crit­ics said the rule would have added costs, sti­fled in­no­va­tion and picked win­ners and losers among In­ter­net com­pa­nies.

The House voted 215-205 to re­ject the rule and sent the leg­is­la­tion to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for his signature. The vote is part of an ex­ten­sive ef­fort that Repub­li­cans have un­der­taken to void an ar­ray of reg­u­la­tions is­sued dur­ing the fi­nal months of Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ten­ure. But the vote was closer this time than pre­vi­ous re­scind ef­forts,

with 15 Repub­li­cans sid­ing with Democrats in the ef­fort to keep the rule in place.

Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Repub­li­can-led ef­fort was about putting profit over the pri­vacy con­cerns of Amer­i­cans.

“Over­whelm­ingly, the Amer­i­can peo­ple do not agree with Repub­li­cans that this in­for­ma­tion should be sold, and it cer­tainly should not be sold with­out your per­mis­sion,” Pelosi said. “Our broad­band providers know deeply per­sonal in­for­ma­tion about us and our fam­i­lies.”

In­ter­net com­pa­nies such as Google don’t have to ask users’ per­mis­sion be­fore track­ing what sites they visit. Repub­li­cans and in­dus­try groups have blasted that dis­crep­ancy, say­ing it was un­fair and con­fus­ing for con­sumers.

But pro­po­nents of the pri­vacy mea­sure ar­gued that the com­pany that sells you your in­ter­net con­nec­tion can see even more about con­sumers, such as ev­ery web­site they visit and whom they ex­change e-mails with.

Un­do­ing the FCC reg­u­la­tion leaves peo­ple’s on­line in­for­ma­tion in a murky area. Ex­perts say fed­eral law still re­quires broad­band providers to pro­tect cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion — but it doesn’t spell out how or what com­pa­nies must do. That’s what the FCC rule aimed to do.

The Trump-ap­pointed chair­man of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broad­band pri­vacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Repub­li­cans want a dif­fer­ent fed­eral agency, the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion, to po­lice pri­vacy for broad­band com­pa­nies such as AT&T and in­ter­net com­pa­nies such as Google. Repub­li­can law­mak­ers said they cared about con­sumer pri­vacy ev­ery bit as much as Democrats did.

“What Amer­ica needs is one stan­dard across the in­ter­net ecosys­tem, and the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion is the best place for that stan­dard,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Repub­li­can Leader Kevin McCarthy of Cal­i­for­nia said the FTC has acted as Amer­ica’s on­line pri­vacy reg­u­la­tor since the dawn of the in­ter­net. He called the rule an ef­fort to strip the agency of that role.

“The in­ter­net has be­come the amaz­ing tool that it is be­cause it is largely left un­touched by reg­u­la­tion — and that shouldn’t stop now,” McCarthy said.

Repub­li­can Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Repub­li­can col­leagues on the is­sue. He said the pri­vacy pro­tec­tions were “com­mon­sense mea­sures” that would have en­sured in­ter­net users con­tinue to have con­trol over their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

“We don’t want the gov­ern­ment hav­ing ac­cess to our in­for­ma­tion with­out our con­sent, and the same goes for pri­vate business,” Yoder said.

Broad­band providers don’t fall un­der FTC ju­ris­dic­tion, and ad­vo­cates say the FTC his­tor­i­cally has been a weaker agency than the FCC.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union urged Trump to veto the res­o­lu­tion, ap­peal­ing to his pop­ulist side.

“Pres­i­dent Trump now has the op­por­tu­nity to veto this res­o­lu­tion and show he is not just a pres­i­dent for CEOs but for all Amer­i­cans,” said the ACLU’s Neema Singh Gu­liani.

Repub­li­cans re­peat­edly dis­counted the pri­vacy ben­e­fits gen­er­ated by the rule.

Dur­ing the past two months, they’ve voted to re­peal more than a dozen Obama-era reg­u­la­tions in the name of curb­ing gov­ern­ment over­reach. The crit­i­cism of their ef­forts was par­tic­u­larly harsh Tuesday.

“Law­mak­ers who voted in fa­vor of this bill just sold out the Amer­i­can peo­ple to spe­cial in­ter­ests,” said Rep. Jared Po­lis, D-Colo.

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