Trump Signs Bill Blocking Online Privacy Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Monday signed a bill into law that opens the door to internet providers selling information about their customers’ browsing habits.

The bill does away with a Federal Communications Commission regulation issued last fall that gave consumers greater control over how Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other companies shared their online browsing history and related information.

The regulation, known as the “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunication Services,” was scheduled to go into effect later this year, but it was blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress, which used its authority under the rarely-used Congressional Review Act.

Since President Trump took office in January, Congress has repeatedly invoked the 20-year-old law to void Obama administration regulations it believes stymie business.

GOP lawmakers have contended that many of the regulations effectively pick the winners and losers in the marketplace. In this case, they complained that under the FCC regulation, internet service providers did not have to ask their users for permission before tracking the sites they visit, while other tech firms did have to ask for explicit permission to use their customers’ data.

This, they said, created an atmosphere of unfair competition.

Prior to Trump’s signing the bill on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer derided the FCC regulation as “federal overreach” and an example of “bureaucrats in Washington” favoring the interest of one group of companies over the interest of others.

He also said Trump’s support of the bill was part of a larger administration effort “to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth.”

According to the White House,  the rule required internet service providers “to obtain affirmative ‘opt-in’ consent from consumers to use and share certain information, including app usage and web browsing history.”

While the rule did give broadband providers access to a user’s email address and other private information, like geolocation or financial information, users were also specifically given the chance to opt out of sharing their info.

The choice to opt out is now off the table.

Repealing the Obama-era rule is expected to be a positive move for advertisers and broadband companies who will have a new wealth of resources to draw from.

Before Trump signed the repeal bill, lobbyists and representatives for broadband heavy hitters like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast issued statements defending the pending repeal . Each company argued that critics of the repeal were getting ahead of themselves since the FCC’s own rules on privacy did not extend to popular websites where customers’ data is sold for advertisements.

While other areas of the internet woefully lack internet protections for consumers, this recent move could indicate a shift away from regulations enforced by the FCC and a renewed push toward reinstating the more corporate-friendly climate implemented by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Federal Trade Commission was once the sole regulating body for internet privacy until net neutrality rules set in 2015 upset the apple cart forcing all internet providers to treat internet traffic equally.

Members of the GOP were vocal in their support of the repeal bill saying that the rule was doing more to confuse consumers than help them. Democrats took a hard line against the repeal, arguing that it was a way to funnel more information to a greater host of third party marketers.

“If President Trump clicks his pen and signs this resolution, consumers will be stripped of critical privacy protections in a New York Minute,” said Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., last week. “A family’s deeply personal information, like social security numbers, finances and health background should not be sold to the highest bidder.”

Newly-anointed FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, celebrated the repeal in a statement issued Monday night.

“President Trump and Congress have appropriately invalidated one part of the Obama-era plan for regulating the Internet.  Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were designed to benefit one group of favored companies, not online consumers,” he said. ““American consumers’ privacy deserves to be protected regardless of who handles their personal information.  In order to deliver that consistent and comprehensive protection, the Federal Communications Commission will be working with the Federal Trade Commission to restore the FTC’s authority to police Internet service providers’ privacy practices.  We need to put America’s most experienced and expert privacy cop back on the beat.  And we need to end the uncertainty and confusion that was created in 2015 when the FCC intruded in this space.”

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