Washington, D.C. — Today the Senate has used a sledgehammer, the Congressional Review Act, to smash hopes that Americans will finally have real control over the highly personal information that their broadband internet service providers (ISPs) can collect about them. By a 50 to 48 margin, the Senate voted to repeal the broadband privacy rules which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued last year and had not yet gone into effect. The House is likely to follow suit.
The FCC recognized that broadband users’ personal information belongs to them, not to their ISPs. If ISPs want to use or share customers’ data for purposes beyond what is necessary to provide them with the service that they’re paying for, such as profiling them based on their online activities and selling that information to advertisers, they should have to get the customers’ approval. Where the default is set matters, so in the case of sensitive data – information about customers’ health, finances, children, geolocation, web browsing and app usage history, Social Security numbers, and the content of their communications – the FCC ruled that ISPs would need to obtain customers’ affirmative consent. Equally important, the FCC said that ISPs can’t force customers to give up control of their data through “take it or leave it” terms of service.
There is no excuse for robbing Americans of these rights. Even worse, doing so through the Congressional Review Act prevents the FCC from ever proposing “substantially similar” rules again. The argument that the rules are unfair because other internet businesses that collect and sell individuals’ personal information wouldn’t be covered is disingenuous. Congress could, and should, enact a law that would provide the same strong privacy protections across the entire online ecosystem. But that’s not what the companies on whose behalf members of Congress are voting to scrap these rules want. Americans have clearly and repeatedly said that they want to be in control of their personal information, and we applaud the Senators who stood up for them today. It is a shame that the majority of Senators voted to put special corporate interests ahead of the privacy interests of Americans.
Contact: Susan Grant, 202-939-1003
The Consumer Federation of America is a national organization of more than 250 nonprofit consumer groups that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.