Trump signs bill blocking online privacy regulation

Posted April 05, 2017

Broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications will gain from the new Internet privacy rules signed by US President Donald Trump. This allows Congress to fast-track the repeal of regulations passed by the previous administration by requiring a simple majority vote in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The regulations were finalized in October 2016, but were eligible for rollback via the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that allows Congress to express its disapproval of new, major regulations.

Ajit Pai, the agency chairman appointed by Trump, has said he wanted to roll back the broadband privacy rules. It also now can not enforce its own guidelines against Internet providers due to a government rule that places those types of companies squarely within the jurisdiction of the FCC and out of the reach of the FTC.

"President Trump's signature puts the final nail in the coffin of the FCC's online privacy protections", said Joshua Stager, policy counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute.

The American Civil Liberties Union also voiced its opposition, with ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani saying in a statement that it was "extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies".

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Verizon, AT&T and Comcast all insisted earlier this week that they had no plans to sell customers' browsing histories despite the repeal of the FCC's rules.

However, Comcast did join with other ISPs to urge the overturning of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) privacy rules, which Lewis describes as "overreaching". However, it doesn't provide details on how or what companies must do, which is what the online privacy rule aimed to do. The companies now do not have to ask for permission from customers before sharing personal information like browsing history.

Under the FCC rules, broadband providers would have needed consent "before collecting information about what you search for on the internet, post on social media and what videos you watch online", said Clyburn and McSweeny, both Democrats. "Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were created to benefit one group of favoured companies, not online consumers". "Consumers deserve the right to make their own decisions about access, use, and sale of their personal, sensitive internet data by their broadband provider".

Comcast said that it will update its privacy policy to make that more clear; AT&T already says in its policy that it "will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any objective". Pai has further stated that now FCC would work with Federal Trade Commission, to restore "FTC's authority to police internet service providers' privacy practices".

President Trump is expected to sign this legislation in the upcoming weeks.