Senate votes to kill broadband privacy rules

The US Senate on Thursday voted down Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that would have required internet service providers to get users to consent to be targeted by advertisers.

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday that would dismantle a set of internet privacy rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) past year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Obama-era regulation "makes the internet an uneven playing field, increases complexity, discourages competition, innovation and infrastructure investment".

Americans for Tax Reform - best known for creating a "pledge" almost 30 years ago about not creating any new taxes, which all Republican Congressmen are pressured into signing - approved of the vote, too.

Privacy and consumer advocates, including the Center for Democracy & Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union, decried the Senate vote.

Supporters of the regulations say they were necessary after the FCC reclassified broadband as a regulated service, taking privacy enforcement away from the FTC, as part of net neutrality rules in early 2015. But you'd be wrong: at this point, they'll say anything to block the FCC's privacy-protective rules.

Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel, said the Senate's vote sacrifices "privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon".

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Introduced last October by the Federal Communications Commission, the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules were created to provide consumers with more control over their data. According to the Senate Calendar (pdf), a vote is expected to take place as soon as Thursday (aka tomorrow).

"This is an important victory for all who benefit from the data-driven marketing economy, including tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations and hundreds of millions of consumers", Data & Marketing Association Senior Vice President Emmett O'Keefe said today in a statement. But in February alone, Trump signed three more CRA bills, overturning rules that would have prevented some mentally ill people from buying guns, protected waterways from coal pollution and required mining and drilling companies to disclose certain financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The vote also came under fire by Fight for the Future, a prominent digital rights group which has for years combatted efforts in Congress to relax online privacy regulations. Telecom companies argue that companies like Google know far more about users than they do. "Meanwhile, the Internet's giant edge providers were exempt despite having access to similar, if not more, consumer data for their commercial use".

"The FCC rules were carefully created to give broadband customers greater choice and security for their private data", he said.

Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a thinktank that advocates for lighter regulation, said in a statement: "The FCC's rule was unwise and unnecessary". The rules also establish deadlines for breach notifications, require clear notification to customers of what data is being collected and how it is being used, and prevent "take-it-or-leave-it" offers-conditioning service on allowing data sharing.

The FCC's definition of sensitive data is broader than the FTC's, which oversees privacy for search engines and social networks.

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