U.S. Senate votes to rescind Internet privacy rules forever

Well, this is bullshit. Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate just voted to overturn a set of privacy rules that were written in 2016 to prevent Internet service providers from sharing (selling, really) your Internet usage information, including your browsing history, The Washington Post reports.

Oh, it gets worse. The rules only existed in the first place because the FCC implemented them last year, then under the leadership of chairman Tom Wheeler. As written, ISPs and wireless carries such as Comcast and AT&T must get permission from customers in order to share their personal information, including which websites they frequent. Today the Republican-led Senate voted 50-48 on a joint resolution that would not only rescind those rules, but bar the FCC from passing similar consumer protections in the future.

Granted, lawmakers may find a way to thwart the resolution in the future, but since this is largely a partisan issue, it might be several years before that happens. In the meantime, the joint resolution heads to the House.

"This resolution is a direct attack on consumer rights, on privacy, on rules that afford basic protection against intrusive and illegal interference with consumers' use of social media sites and websites that often they talk for granted," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in the Senate today, according to the Verge.

The vote passed in the Senate by a 50-48 margin using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations recently enacted by the previous administration with simple majority votes. Unsurprisingly, the vote was praised by industry groups representing broadband providers.

"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. "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."

Opponents of the FCC's rules say they're too broad in scope. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called the rules "heavy handed" and said they're tougher on ISPs than they are on online content providers. As such, he said the rules amounted to "bad regulation," USA Today reports.

You can judge for yourself if the FCC's rules were overreaching. The document is published on the Federal Register website. Here's an excerpt of its summary:

"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]."

Barring a surprise backlash in the House, the rules are going to be wiped away. When that happens, your browsing history could soon be up for grabs to the highest bidder. Kind of makes you think twice about visiting that certain website, doesn't it?

Paul Lilly

Paul has been playing PC games and raking his knuckles on computer hardware since the Commodore 64. He does not have any tattoos, but thinks it would be cool to get one that reads LOAD"*",8,1. In his off time, he rides motorcycles and wrestles alligators (only one of those is true).