Senate Republicans Eliminate Obama-Era Internet Privacy Rules

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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The Senate voted to repeal Obama-era privacy regulations Thursday that would have required internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain consent from consumers before using their secondary data for advertising purposes.

The resolution passed 50-48 down party lines, with two lawmakers flagged as absent from the roll call vote. If the resolution makes it out of the House and is signed by President Trump, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be barred from not only implementing the privacy rules passed under Obama, but it would be banned from implementing similar changes in the future.

Opponents of the rule applauded the Senate vote, arguing that the directive denied consumers consistent privacy protection online and that it violated competitive net neutrality principles.

The argument from ISPs is that they are being put under a harsher regime, while the status of social media sites remains unchanged. Facebook and the like would have a clear advantage when it comes to digital advertising, while ISPs dispense the time and resources in compliance with new regulations.

“The Senate’s action represents a critical step towards re-establishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online,” the Internet and Television Association said in a press release.

Industry trade groups and Republican lawmakers have been frustrated by what they see as unnecessary, heavy-handed government intervention that stifles innovation and blocks new entrants into the market.

“The Obama-era regulation threatens to undermine innovation and competition in the internet ecosystem,” Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association said in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF).

“The FCC ignored the framework established by the Federal Trade Commission that already provides consumer protection to users’ information, while enabling data-driven innovation,” Shapiro continued, echoing a widely held conservative position that believes the FCC has creeped beyond its authority, especially during the Obama years.

“There are these little fiefdoms across the federal government, and they are all concerned with asserting their own power and authority,” Zachary Graves, a policy expert with the R Street Institute, a free market think tank, told TheDCNF.

“When they engage in duplicative functions, it creates unnecessary compliance costs and confusion,” said Graves, who added, “While there are real concerns with ISP privacy, the appropriate venue for that debate is with Congress or the FTC.”

Proponents of the privacy regulations argue that the rule protected American consumers and their personal data. Public Knowledge, a digital-consumers rights public interest group, says that repeal means there is nothing stopping ISPs from selling a consumer’s private web browsing history without their permission.

“Without the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, Americans go from being internet users to marketing data,” Dallas Harris, a policy fellow at Public Knowledge told TheDCNF. “The Senate just used the Congressional Review Act to weaken consumer privacy online,” Harris continued.

The FCC, established in 1934 and significantly modified in 1996, regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC’s mission is to work towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security. (RELATED: Ajit Pai Wants To Stop Robocalls, Telemarketers)

ISP advertising has the potential to help offset the cost of internet connections for consumers, Graves explained. “Most online services already rely on private data to serve us ads. This is why we don’t have to pay a subscription fee for Gmail and Facebook.” ISP advertising has the potential to help offset the cost of internet connections,” he said.

Trump appointed former FCC commissioner and outspoken critic of former President Barack Obama Ajit Pai to serve as chairman of the FCC.

The longtime critic of Obama’s telecommunications policies is expected to drastically reverse Obama-era FCC regulations including Net Neutrality.

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