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Senate quashes an Obama-era regulation to protect your privacy online

24 March 2017

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday that would dismantle a set of internet privacy rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) previous year. "Even worse, doing so through the Congressional Review Act prevents the FCC from ever proposing "substantially similar" rules again".

In a joint statement following Thursday's Senate vote, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeney, both Democrats, condemned the legislation. The regulation would have also required companies, such as Comcast and AT&T, to alert the Federal Bureau of Investigation within a week of detecting such breaches.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had voted against the rules as a Republican commissioner. President Trump, who campaigned on rolling back federal regulations, is likely to sign the repeal. Edward Markey (D) in a statement following the vote.

"With today's vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American's sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission", he continued. That's why we need the FCC's privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they've shown they're willing to abuse that power.

The Internet era has changed the way we think about a lot of things - but nothing more so than online consumer privacy.

The rules struck down by the Senate "would risk disrupting the hugely successful internet ecosystem that has developed under the existing framework", said Emmett O'Keefe, the DMA's senior VP of advocacy, in a release following the vote.

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Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal said before the vote that "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". Two Republicans did not vote.

The ultimate target of the GOP and broadband providers, Democrats said, are the controversial online traffic rules known as net neutrality that are created to ensure the free-flow of content on the Internet. "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".

Jeff Flake, the Republican Senator who introduced the resolution to repeal, criticized the rules this month as "unnecessary" and "innovation-stifling regulation".

The bill next goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, but it was not clear when they would take up the measure.

Consumer data, particularly the kind generated by internet traffic, has become incredibly valuable thanks to the emergence of companies that can use this information to create highly targeted advertising. They have bet billions on content acquisitions, which can potentially be paired with subscriber data to build up online advertising businesses to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook.

This bifurcated system will only confuse consumers - leaving them unsure what rules apply to their data at which times and mistakenly leading them to believe a choice regarding their data in one area will also protect it in another.