Senate's FCC Privacy Rule Smackdown Draws a Crowd

Not surprisingly, the Senate's party-line vote to use the Congressional Review Act to repeal the FCC's broadband privacy framework drew immediate and mixed response.

The resolution still needs to pass the House and be signed by the President, but both are expected to happen.

“We appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted FCC rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality," said NCTA: The Internet & Television Association. "The Senate’s action represents a critical step towards reestablishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online. Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers. We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

“The FCC’s midnight regulation has the potential to limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who proposed the resolution. "Passing my resolution is the first step toward restoring a consumer-friendly approach to internet privacy regulation that empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared. It will not change or lessen existing consumer privacy protections.”

“I applaud the Senate’s vote today to roll back the FCC’s overreach," said House Communications Subcommittee chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who strongly supports the CRA and took steps to mirror the move in the House. "When the FCC adopted unnecessary and discriminatory rules for ISPs it didn’t improve Americans online privacy, it harmed it by taking the FTC off the job. Today’s action takes us one step closer to restoring the FTC’s role as America’s expert agency on privacy.”

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny, each the lone Democrat on their respective commissions, lambasted the Republican move.

“Today the Senate voted along party lines to dismantle the FCC’s broadband privacy rules," they said in a joint statement. "If signed by the President [it also has to first be passed by the House], this law would repeal the FCC’s widely-supported broadband privacy framework, and eliminate the requirement that cable and broadband providers offer customers a choice before selling their sensitive, personal information."

“This legislation will frustrate the FCC’s future efforts to protect the privacy of voice and broadband customers. It also creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements. This is the antithesis of putting #ConsumersFirst. The House must still consider this legislation. We hope they recognize the importance of consumer privacy and not undermine the ability of Americans to exercise control over their sensitive data.”

“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result of the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was the resolution's longest and strongest opponent during floor debate.

Rep. Frank Pallone, ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, urged House Republicans to use "better judgment" and reject the resolution but said he was ready to fight if they did not.

“At a time when our personal data is more vulnerable than ever, it’s baffling that Senate Republicans would eliminate the few privacy protections Americans have today," said Pallone. "If Republicans really cared about protecting Americans online, they would focus on giving the Federal Trade Commission more authority to protect our data no matter where we go on the internet.  Instead, today they chose to eliminate important consumer-privacy rules adopted by the FCC in October."

“This resolution is a vote for big corporate profits over the rights and civil liberties of average people,” said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at Access Now. “The House of Representatives must now stand up for consumers and against the CRA resolution to throw away internet privacy protections.”

The ACLU saw the vote as a victory for profits over privacy.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon," said ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani. "The resolution would undo privacy rules that ensure consumers control how their most sensitive information is used. The House must now stop this resolution from moving forward and stand up for our privacy rights.” 

“With less than 10 hours of ‘consideration,’ the Senate took the first step to eliminating a rule that put consumers in control of their data online," said Public Knowledge policy fellow Dallas Harris. "This vote is a clear sign that American interests come second to those of broadband providers. In a world where everything is increasingly digital, now there will be no rules preventing ISPs from selling your web browsing history without your permission—covering everything from the apps you use to your smarthome devices.

“Without the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, Americans go from being internet users to marketing data—from people to the product," said Harris. "The Senate just used the Congressional Review Act to weaken consumer privacy online. Americans won’t forget," echoing Markey's floor statement that it would be a vote to be remembered and the most important privacy vote ever.

“Today, 50 members of the U.S. Senate voted to sell their constituents most personal information to the highest bidder," said Fight for the Future. "They used a blatantly undemocratic Congressional procedure to gut basic protections that prevent Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon from selling their customers personal information to marketers without their permission."

Data marketers were, not surprisingly, pleased with the Senate vote.

“Today’s vote in the Senate and expected approval in the House signal that our nation’s top policymakers recognize that our current system of responsible data use works," said Emmett O’Keefe, senior VP of advocacy for the Data & Marketing Association, which represents the marketers who use online surfer data to target advertising.

“This is an important victory for all who benefit from the data-driven marketing economy," he said, "including tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations and hundreds of millions of consumers. Consumers understand the value that relevant ads provide, and put the value of the services they get for free on the internet at $1,200 per year.

“The FCC’s ISP rules were a step backwards for consumers and should be repealed as they would risk disrupting the hugely successful Internet ecosystem that has developed under the existing framework. Congressional action to overturn these rules will ensure that organizations can continue to responsibly leverage data to meet the needs of their consumers.”

John Eggerton

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.