Both the House (215-205) and Senate (50-48) have voted to revoke the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband privacy rules which would have forced broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Verizon, Comcast and Charter, to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share their personal sensitive information. Sensitive information includes things such as precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage and the content of communications. The regulations would have also required ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about the information they collect, how it may be used and with whom it may be shared. The FCC proposed the new regulations in March, 2016, and formally adopted them in October, 2016, just days before the presidential election. President Trump dealt the FCC regulations their final blow by repealing the online privacy rules on April 3rd.
Proponents of the regulations claim that reversing the regulations opens the door for ISPs to sell customer data to third parties and leaves a gaping hole in federal privacy protections. The proposed regulations would have subjected broadband ISPs to the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act. That, say opponents of the regulations, was an overstep of the FCC’s authority and such opponents claim further that the FCC does not have the right to regulate ISPs at all. Prior to such regulations ISPs had never had special privacy rules specifically applicable to them. The FCC defended its right to implement privacy rules specific to ISPs by claiming that ISPs were actually common carriers, similar to utility providers, of which the FCC does have the authority to regulate over. Common carriers are subject to Title 2 of the Communications Act. Opponents of the regulations argue that in addition to overstepping their jurisdiction, the FCC seemed to be picking winners and losers in the marketplace, because while ISPs and websites, such as Google or Facebook, both compete for online generated consumer data, only ISPs would be subject to the proposed regulations.
The vote in Congress to revoke the proposed regulations was primarily drawn on party lines with Democrats in the House and Senate unanimously voting to keep the privacy rules in place and all Senate Republicans and all but 15 House Republicans voting to eliminate the rules. The current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, was also in agreement with Republicans, arguing that ISPs should not face stricter rules than website operators. Pai was in the commission minority when the proposed regulations were passed last year.