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Congress votes to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules for internet service providers

Why it matters to you

Although Congress voted to repeal privacy protection rules proposed by the FCC, those rules were never in affect, leaving protections largely unchanged.

On Tuesday, the United States House of Representatives voted to repeal privacy rules created by the Federal Communications Commission. The independent government agency introduced its new privacy ruleset in October of 2016 for regulating an internet service provider’s use and sale of subscriber data. The decision by the House follows one made by the Senate last week, which narrowly voted to repeal the privacy rules. Now the final decision to terminate the FCC’s proposed rules is in the hands of President Donald Trump.

Up until February of 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), another independent government agency, handled all privacy concerns for Americans subscribing to home and mobile broadband services. But in February of 2015, the FCC classified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common communication services. This move stripped the FTC of its ability to provide privacy protections regarding ISPs and their internet service subscribers.

It wasn’t until October of 2016 that the FCC introduced a new privacy ruleset called “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” These rules dictated that ISPs were required to provide opt-in/opt-out options regarding the use of personal subscriber data by third-party companies. This essentially prevented ISPs from making quick cash selling the mountains of sensitive data they collect, such as a user’s current health symptoms, their peak activities, and so on. The rules also required ISPs to provide data breach notifications, transparency, and more.

Now, both the House and the Senate have voted to use the Congressional Review Act of 1996 to repeal the federal regulation. According to the FTC, the rules established by the FCC were not in effect, leaving a privacy protection “hole” since the decision to reclassify ISPs in February of 2015. However, the FTC has continued to offer internet-based protection policies such as CAN-SPAM, COPPA, and more.

The Trump Administration stated on Tuesday that it supports shutting down the Commission’s rule titled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunication Services.” The White House explicitly explained why the FCC ruleset is shutting down. “The rule departs 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.”

That all said, the issue regarding a “consumer protection gap” isn’t a problem stemming from the recent votes in Congress, but emerged once ISPs became common telecommunication companies in early 2015. Thus, according to the FTC, it’s an FCC-created issue and must be resolved by the FCC and/or Congress.

“Acting FTC Chairman Ohlhausen stands ready to assist both the FCC and Congress based on the FTC’s longstanding expertise in protecting consumer privacy and data security,” the agency told Digital Trends.

The joint resolution voting against the ruleset submitted by the FCC is labeled by Congress as S.J.Res.34. When submitted to President Trump, his advisers will likely recommend that he sign the bill into law.

Updated on 03/30/17 by Kevin Parrish to reflect information provided by the Federal Trade Commission.