Repeal of FCC rules pitting privacy advocates vs. ISPs passes Senate

(courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)

While the push for health care reform and Supreme Court confirmation hearings continue to dominate this week’s Washington news cycles, a Senate vote on internet privacy matters taken today is drawing the attention of business owners and consumer advocates alike.

At issue are privacy rules that were put in place by the Federal Communications Commission last year, ahead of the fall elections. The rules required companies to get consumers’ consent before they could share a host of web-browsing data with advertisers and other third parties, but the move put consumer-privacy advocates in conflict with companies that insisted the rules stifled innovation and service.

ISPs like Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) were reclassified as “common carriers” in 2015, a measure that eventually put them under the purview of the FCC, whereas big websites like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Thus, as Wired notes, Google can sell consumers’ web-browsing data to third parties without the same level of consent requirements that ISPs face.

And it’s not just the ISPs that wanted the rules wiped out. Advertising groups also have lobbied against them, as AdAge reported recently. It cited a statement from several of the groups that read, “Without prompt action in Congress or at the FCC, the FCC’s regulations would break with well-accepted and functioning industry practices, chilling innovation and hurting the consumers the regulation was supposed to protect.” Broadcasting & Cable added that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R – Ariz.), suggested the rules prevent ISPs from adjusting services to customers’ needs.

At the same time, proponents of the rules largely took on the position that they were necessary to protect people from corporate overreach into private information. For example, Sen. Ed Markey (D – Mass.) argued that pulling back on those rules effectively means more companies get to decide how much privacy individuals can enjoy, TechCrunch reported.

That same TechCrunch report noted a further complication of the Senate’s vote: Republicans are pursuing the matter under the Congressional Review Act, which allows legislators to undo regulations passed at the end of a previous presidential administration. That means the stakes are even higher than usual because should Congress undo those regulations, the FCC would be barred from issuing those same rules in the future, the report said.

The resolution still needs to pass the House of Representatives to take effect.

David A. Arnott is the National News Desk Editor with The Business Journals.




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