Goodbye internet privacy: U.S. House of Representatives just killed FCC privacy rules

No surprises here. Last week, the U.S. Senate voted along party lines to stamp out strong FCC privacy regulations introduced in 2016. And today, the House of Representatives confirmed that those rules are dead, voting 215-205 (with 15 Republicans joining the Democrats to vote against the repeal) to allow ISPs and other telecommunications companies to do whatever they want with your personal data.

As we explained last week, the FCC's protections would have required ISPs to ask opt-in or opt-out permission for what they did with your personal data, like your browsing history. As the FCC's proposed rules summarized, this is what could have been regulatory policy before today's vote:

"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 resolution now heads to the White House, where President Trump will presumably sign it. The White House put out a news release this morning to that effect, claiming that the opt-in and opt-out rules for ISPs "depart from the technology-neutral framework for online privacy administered by the Federal Trade Commission. This results in rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor."

Similarly, Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn, chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the FCC, said "[Consumer privacy] will be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these rules will create," according to The Washington Post. Blackburn is also not a fan of net neutrality.

With no FCC rules on the horizon to shape how ISPs handle privacy, it will be up to the industry to decide for itself how best to tell you what it's doing with your data. Good luck with that, friends!

If you're concerned about what to do to protect your online privacy, the EFF recommends these tools.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).