On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives will vote on whether to repeal the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s 2016 broadband privacy regulations.
Last week, the Senate voted to repeal the regulations. The decision was made along strict party lines—50 Republican senators voted for the bill—and could impact the Obama-era regulations that were put in place to protect consumers' personal information online from being sold to target ads.
The FCC regulations, which were enacted in October 2016 and set to go into effect on December 4, 2017, would require internet service providers to obtain permission from customers before their personal web history could be shared. The FCC chair, Ajit Pai, a Republican and a former Verizon lawyer, has been vocal in his opposition to the rules.
As previously reported by TechRepublic's Alison DeNisco, Internet service providers (ISP) like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint are in favor of eliminating the restrictions, and recently filed a petition with the FCC to eliminate the regulations against sharing personal internet history.
The ISP filing argues that information such as Social Security numbers, financial information, health information, and geolocation is "sensitive," and makes the case that information that falls outside these categories, such as web browsing history, should not be deemed "sensitive."
"It did not find—either in its Privacy Report or in its comments in this proceeding—that web browsing history as a category posed such risks," the court filing said. The current bill addresses whether this type of information could be considered "sensitive information."
According to John Pironti, president of IP architects, "the typical use cases are to ensure the availability and reliability of their networks and services and the usage and sale of this data for marketing and sales activities." Pironti said he supports the ISP's "need to gather web browsing and application data for the purposes of security, reliability and availability of their services." However, he also believes that users should allow use of online activity or an "opt-out" option when it comes to the use of personal data for sales and marketing. "The ISPs could consider offering some incentive model to those individuals who allow their web browsing activities and application usage to be captured and analyzed (such as discounted service) in return for the use of their data and potential loss of privacy," said Pironti, which would let users "make a risk and reward based decision for themselves instead of having no control or insight into the collection and use of this data."
The bill that is up for vote takes advantage of the Congressional Review Act, which can allow for regulations to be undone by lawmakers within 60 days of finalization. If the bill passes in the US House of Representatives, it will be sent to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.
If the bill takes effect, the FCC will be asked to develop new privacy requirements for ISPs. While these might also restrict the sale of certain private information such as financial or health-related information, restrictions on sharing web browsing history are likely to fall away, leaving consumers' internet activity up for sale. It could also have implications for future Internet regulations—the enforcement of net neutrality principles, for instance—that could be rolled back in the future.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
1. Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others, recently petitioned to have the FCC eliminate the restrictions against using users' personal web history, saying it should not be considered "sensitive information."
2. Voting along party lines, the Senate recently voted to repeal the restrictions.
3. If the House of Representatives votes to repeal the rules, the bill will likely be signed by President Trump, and could lead to ISPs using and sharing personal customers' web browsing history.
- Internet privacy bill vote coming in the House (CBS News)
- A Trump presidency could mean trouble for net neutrality rules (TechRepublic)
- FCC blocks rules that stop internet providers from secretly selling your data (ZDNet)
- De-anonymizing web-browsing histories may reveal your social media profiles (TechRepublic)
- 5G requires fibre-based infrastructure: Nokia (ZDNet)
- FCC vote opens spectrum for 5G connectivity, boosting IoT and mobile video (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.