The Senate Voted to Strike Down an Internet Privacy Rule

The move could allow ISPs to share user data without first obtaining permission

The Senate voted today to strike down a rule created by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama era that regulated the conditions under which telecommunications carriers could share information about customers and laid out a protocol for companies to disclose information about data breaches.

The rule, published on Dec. 02, 2016, during the final weeks of the Obama presidency, was a modern-day update of the Communications Act of 1934, and the inclusion of telecoms was meant to, per the wording of the rule, “apply the privacy requirements of the Communications Act…to the most significant communications technology of today—broadband Internet access service (BIAS).”

The Senate voted 50-48 along partisan lines on the joint resolution, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Two Republicans did not vote. It continues on now to the House of Representatives. If the resolution passes the House and is signed by President Trump, internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T could be able to sell the user data of its customers to third parties, or use the information to sell advertising, without seeking express permission from its customers.

The resolution also prevents the FCC from implementing similar future rules, although the current FCC, under the leadership of Ajit Pai, would likely not be inclined to resurrect the rule.

The two remaining democrats on the FTC and the FCC, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny, issued a joint statement following the vote, writing, “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.”

The #ConsumersFirst mention references a hashtag Clyburn has been using to promote open internet and consumer protection at the FCC.