On Tuesday Republicans initialized the first step in rolling back the Federal Communications Commission's internet privacy rules, with 25 U.S. senators introducing a new resolution that would cause their reversal, and even forbid the commission from passing anything similar in the future.
Introduced last year, the privacy rules were an addendum to the net neutrality order, which required the FCC to handle enforcement of privacy protection form the Federal Trade Commission, although the FCC needed to pass clear rules in order to effectively do as such.
The Verge notes that the FCC's rules mostly parallel FTC's privacy standards, but there are two key differences between both: the FCC makes it compulsory for internet service providers, or ISPs, to protect browsing data and history of their subscribers, and FCC also has much more leeway to enforce its own rules.
Selling User Data And Browsing History For Advertising
Such precedence over internet privacy sours ISPs, so needless to say they are obviously advocating to overturn them. The new legislation would use the power of lawmakers under the Congressional Review Act to render FCC's rulemaking essentially useless. The goal is for FCC's rules to match FTC's, and that means, at a minimum, internet providers would be able to sell private browsing history for advertising.
Senator Jeff Flake said in his announcement that he's trying to "protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation." He adds that the resolution helps consumers arrive at informed decisions "on if and how their data can be shared," though Flake didn't elaborate how.
Flake argues that the FCC's privacy rulemaking, approved by the commission this past October, "does nothing to protect consumer privacy."
"It is unnecessary, confusing, and adds yet another innovation-stifling regulation to the Internet." Flake also called the FCC's restrictions as possible impediments to consumers and the future of internet innovation.
Consent And Other Requirements
The privacy order had several major components, according to Ars Technica. It required consent from consumers before parting information such as geolocation, financial and health data, children's information, Social Security numbers, internet browsing history, app history, and even communication content. This is supposed to go into effect on Dec. 4.
FCC's rulemaking required ISPs to protect consumer information from theft and data breaches. This was on track to take effect on March 2, but Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai put a stop to the implementation of such a rule.
The new resolution would block all such requirements from taking into effect. Flake calls it the first step toward reverting back to the FTC's "light-touch, consumer-friendly approach."
What Will Happen To Net Neutrality?
There's an inherent conundrum to all this: what are FCC's next plans? If the privacy rules are indeed trashed by the Congress, the resolution essentially renders the FCC unable to pass any rules that are similar to the ones overturned. Criteria to determine whether rules are "substantially the same" are not quite clear yet.
Since Pai's assumption of the top FCC post, net neutrality has been in constant hazard of being obliterated completely, and this new resolution appears set to seal the deal. Most recently, Pai called the privacy rules "a mistake," promising commitment to a lighter touch of regulation throughout his helm.