President Trump signs bill repealing FCC's broadband privacy rules

ISPs now have a green light to sell your browsing history to the highest bidder.

As was the expected outcome, President Trump on Monday signed a bill that effectively erases Internet privacy rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission under the previous administration, The New York Times reports. Now broadband providers and wireless carriers can track and sell a customer's browsing history without first getting permission.

That would not have been the case later this year when the rules were to take effect. Had this bill rescinding those rules not been passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, ISPs would have been bound to an opt-in policy whereby customers would have to give their permission for ISPs to track and share their online data.

Here is a summary of those proposed rules, and what could have been regulatory policy if this bill wasn't passed:

"In adopting these rules the Commission implements the statutory requirement that telecommunications carriers protect the confidentiality of customer proprietary information. The privacy framework in these rules focuses on transparency, choice, and data security, and provides heightened protection for sensitive customer information, consistent with customer expectations. The rules require carriers to provide privacy notices that clearly and accurately inform customers; obtain opt-in or opt-out customer approval to use and share sensitive or non-sensitive customer proprietary information, respectively; take reasonable measures to secure customer proprietary information; provide notification to customers, the Commission, and law enforcement in the event of data breaches that could result in harm; not condition provision of service on the surrender of privacy rights; and provide heightened notice and obtain affirmative consent when offering financial incentives in exchange for the right to use a customer's confidential information. The Commission also revises its current telecommunications privacy rules to harmonize today's privacy rules for all telecommunications carriers, and provides a tailored exemption from these rules for enterprise customers of telecommunications services other than [broadband internet]." 

The bill rescinding the FCC's rules passed without too much trouble because of something called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). This allows Congress to fast-track the repeal of regulations passed by the previous administration by requiring a simple majority vote in the Senate and House of Representatives. In this case, the bill also prevents the FCC from implementing similar rules in the future.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the bill to Congress where it was voted along party lines. It passed in the Senate 50-48 before heading to the House of Representatives where it also passed (215-205, with 15 Republican joining the Democrats to vote against the repeal). The resolution then headed to the White House where President Trump on Monday signed it into law.

ISPs and other proponents of the bill claim the FCC's rules were too broad in scope. They argued that companies like Google and Facebook are not bound by opt-out policies when it comes to selling user data, and therefore ISPs shouldn't be, either.

The flip side to that argument is that Internet users can choose whether or not to use services that share and sell their data. In many cases, they don't have that same luxury when it comes to choosing an ISP.

The former argument won out. If you're concerned about your data being sold without your permission, you might want to think about using a VPN.


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