Congress allows ISPs to Access User Information

May 17, 2017
PRIVACY AND FREEDOM

 Capital Hill Dark

The U.S. Congress recently delivered a win for Internet-service providers who have been challenging Obama-era Internet restrictions.

The Republican-led body voted in late March to approve a resolution that would lift a Federal Communications Commission rule that required ISPs to obtain permission from consumers before using their browsing history; that measure was adopted in 2015 and was poised to go into effect. The repeal measure, adopted in a 215-205 vote March 28, was sent to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Opponents of the move have argued that loosening the restrictions could violate consumers’ privacy rights and open them up to hacking. However, supporters contend the original rule was unnecessary, and an example of government overreaching.

According to many Congressional Republicans, giving the FCC oversight over consumer privacy itself was problematic; they argued that broadband regulation shouldn’t be a responsibility given exclusively to the FCC but, rather, shared with or managed by the Federal Trade Commission.

“It is worth remembering that the FCC’s own overreach created the problem we are facing today,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement about the recent vote. “Until 2015, the Federal Trade Commission was protecting consumers very effectively, policing every online company’s privacy practices consistently and initiating numerous enforcement actions. However, two years ago, the FCC stripped the FTC of its authority over Internet service providers.”

Another main point of contention for ISPs was that the privacy rules wouldn’t have applied across the board. For instance, huge players like Google and Facebook are not ISPs, so they wouldn’t have been subjected to the regulations, leading opponents of the FCC regulation to raise arguments about fairness. For one, companies like these giants would still have the ability to use or share users’ info for advertising purposes, which would seem to defeat the purpose of the regulation to begin with. And, the rule seemed to give some companies a distinct advantage over others.

Regardless of the regulation, experts say users will likely feel no real effect, especially because ISPs have long been permitted to use consumers’ data. Users with concerns about the process are encouraged to contact their ISPs about opportunities to opt out.

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