On Tuesday, the Republican-led House voted 215 to 205 in favor of repealing the landmark privacy protections enacted during the Obama administration. This follows a vote by the Senate last week which favored eliminating the policies by a vote of 50 to 48. The issue now heads to the White House for signature.
The original rules, overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), prevented Internet providers from sharing certain data regarding their users including sensitive personal information relating to browsing history, location data, health data, and other information created while accessing the Internet.
However, opponents argued that the policies fell outside of the FCC’s purview, suggesting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be responsible for regulating the activities of Internet service providers. At this time, the FTC has no legal authority to exercise such oversight.
As reported by the Washington Post, President Trump is expected to sign and support the repeal, allowing Internet providers to collect and sell the information for profit.
One of the primary arguments for repealing the legislation focused on how it limited innovation based on making Internet providers adhere to strict guidelines regarding the management of user data. Without the restrictions, Internet providers have the ability to gather incredible amounts of data regarding the activities and preferences of Americans that use their services.
Internet service providers have the ability to see any activity a person completes using their services through any connected device including desktops, laptops, and smartphones. Current rules limited how Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon could use the information they collected including their ability to sell the data to third-parties.
In many cases, consumers have limited options to ensure their activities aren’t logged. If a user of a particular website disagrees with the site’s privacy and data collection policies, they have the option to discontinue their activities with the website. However, options for broadband services in many cities and municipalities are limited, at times only having one or two Internet providers to choose from for broadband level service.
Rolling back the policies means Internet providers would have access to the $83 billion market associated with online advertising. Those who defended the current policies felt the current rules were the only mechanism in place that stopped service providers from essentially spying on customers in order to sell the data to whoever offered top dollar.
This move by Congress calls into question the safety of other tech-oriented legislature enacted under Obama, including those related to net neutrality which prevents Internet providers from affecting the delivery of their services based on discrimination towards specific websites. This issue was highly contested by Republicans, though it was approved in 2015.