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Privacy Groups Unbowed by GOP Rule Smackdown

Input continued to pour in following President Donald Trump's signing Monday (April 4) of a resolution nullifying the FCC's broadband privacy rules after Hill Republicans approved it on close, politically divided, votes in both Houses of Congress.

Privacy groups promised to fight on while advertisers said the fight was over "innocuous" info that didn't warrant "barrage" of opt-in notices.

"By vetoing the repeal of the broadband privacy rules President Trump could have sent a powerful message that he heard Americans' demands to have a real say over how their personal information is used and shared for commercial proses, and was willing to stand up for them," said the Consumer Federation of America.

But given that the President added his imprimatur, what now? "This fight is not over," vowed CFA. "The Consumer Federation of America and the other organizations with which we work will continue to push for real privacy protections for Americans."

The National Hispanic Media Coalition was similarly displeased and similarly ready to continue the fight.

"With the stroke of his pen, President Trump quietly sealed the fate of FCC regulations aimed to protect the private information and web browsing histories of Americans across the country," said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs. "Latinos value their private information and will not soon forget a President who failed them, especially in light of all the public concerns he has for his own privacy. The act was a clear gift to Internet Service Providers at the expense of the American people. But the American people were not quiet during this process and left one resounding message: we will continue to stand together to preserve and protect the open internet."

Michael Copps, former FCC chairman and now a special adviser to Common Cause, saw it as a handover of consumer rights to big business by the President.

"Privacy goes the way of populism as Trump rolls over again for big business," he said. "Despite a campaign filled with rhetoric about the plight of forgotten Americans, Trump has once again come down on the side of corporate profiteering at the expense of Americans who don't sit on corporate boards and can't afford a $200,000 membership at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. Trump has flip-flipped on his own campaign promises and handed over Americans' right to privacy to those with the deepest pockets."

Looking at it from an entirely different angle was the Association of National Advertisers, which had pushed the FCC to reconsider the rules and Congress to repeal them.

“This rule would have required vast amounts of innocuous information to be treated suddenly as highly sensitive and needing opt-in consent from consumers," ANA said in a statement. "This is an important major step to help assure a level playing field for privacy regulation for all businesses, and to see to it that consumers will not be bombarded with incessant opt-in notices. ANA also is pleased that the leadership of the FCC and FTC have committed to working cooperatively to return primary regulatory authority over privacy issues to the Federal Trade Commission, which is where we think it should rightfully belong due to the FTC’s long history of oversight and expertise in the privacy arena.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a longtime advocate for privacy online, particularly of children, and a frequent critic of media companies, said the rule rollback "will give giant internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T an open invitation to more easily collect, share, and sell your personal information without your consent."

“All Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and I believe that right extends to the internet,” said Franken, ranking member of the Senate Privacy Subcommittee. “Your digital footprint—the sites you browse, the apps you use, and the sensitive data you provide to websites—deserves to be protected. President Trump has made a grave mistake by signing this disastrous legislation, which will deepen the pockets of big internet conglomerates like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T by allowing them to more easily broker your private information. This law is as anti-consumer as it gets—it gives broadband providers free rein to collect, share, and auction off your data to the highest bidder without your consent. Your privacy is under threat, and I plan to fight back. We cannot allow corporate profits to outweigh consumer privacy rights.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.