FCC’s privacy overturn hailed by ISPs, but consumer groups cite concerns over security, protections

FCC headquarters
The passing of the bill was met with disappointment from Democrat lawmakers and advocacy groups like the ACLU.

The U.S. House voted on Tuesday to roll back privacy rules for ISPs, a move that is drawing praise from ISPs and derision from groups who say the bill favors large service providers while risking consumer privacy.

Now the new measure needs the approval of President Donald Trump. According to reports, he is expected to approve the new bill, which would get rid of rules that require broadband providers to obtain permission to use or share consumer data.

The rules, which were put in place by the FCC last October but had yet to take effect, essentially prohibit wireless and wireline carriers and other ISPs from sharing customers’ personal data with third parties without users’ consent.

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Tier 1 telcos and wireless operators have complained that the rule hampers efforts to monetize information on customers’ behavior via advertising, giving internet-based companies such as Facebook and Google—which don’t provide broadband services—an unfair edge.

RELATED: House votes to kill FCC's privacy rules for ISPs  

As expected, the passing of the bill was met with disappointment from Democrat lawmakers and advocacy groups like the ACLU.

“It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans," ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement. "Trump should use his power to protect everyone’s right to privacy.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement before the vote Tuesday that repealing the rules gives ISPs too much access to consumer information.

“Your broadband provider knows deeply personal information about you and your family—where you are, what you want to know, every site you visit and more,” Pelosi said.

Taking it a step further, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a blog post on Monday that the overturning of the security measures could pose new cybersecurity risks. The EFF said that “privacy is about controlling who has access to information about you, and security is how you maintain that control.” 

However, industry groups like US Telecom say the new action will help spur new innovations and new network investments. 

“Today’s action is another step to remove unnecessary rules and regulations that handicap economic growth and innovation, and moves the country one step closer to ensuring that consumers’ private information is protected uniformly across the entire internet ecosystem," countered Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom. "Consumers can rest easy today knowing their privacy is protected under existing FCC authority, which requires companies to keep consumers’ data safe."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who opposed the current rules, praised the lawmakers' vote, citing support for a technology-neutral privacy plan.

“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework," Pai said in a statement. "In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

Whatever way you slice it, collecting customer data has always been a touchy subject for consumers and ISPs.

AT&T, for one, got rid of its Internet Preferences requirement for GigaPower users who subscribe to its lowest-cost gigabit broadband speed tier, which required their internet activity to be tracked in order to receive a discount of up to $29.

However, it seems that the fight on privacy is far from over.

Following the vote, Democrat Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he intends to introduce a bill instructing the FCC to reinstate privacy rules, reported The Hill.

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