House Votes to Allow ISPs to Spy on Customers and Sell Their Data Without Consent

Washington, D.C. — Today, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the broadband privacy rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By a slim margin, the Senate voted to repeal the rules last week. The measure now goes to President Trump. The following statement can be attributed to Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America:

The vote in Congress to repeal the broadband privacy rules, allowing internet service providers to spy on their customers and sell their data without consent, is a terrible setback for the American public. It does provide an opportunity for President Trump, however. He can show that he is on the side of the people by vetoing this measure.

All the public wants is a little respect. Unlike other online companies, our internet service providers can see our every move online, including the websites we visit and what we do there, the apps we use, and the locations from which we connect. With this information they can build detailed digital dossiers about us. We simply want them to get our approval before they can sell this information to the highest bidder. In crafting the broadband privacy rules, the FCC appropriately said that for our most sensitive information, consent should be on an opt-in basis. This is nothing new or radical. The Federal Trade Commission has recommended much the same approach, though it does not have power to require it.

Without these rules in place, Americans have no control over the personal information that their internet service providers can glean from their online activities. We don’t even have the right to opt-out of that data being used or shared for purposes beyond what is necessary to provide us with the service. Furthermore, many Americans don’t have a have a choice of broadband internet service providers. It’s an unfair, take it or leave it situation. Some in the Congress have argued that the repeal of the broadband privacy rules will not leave Americans with less privacy protection than they have now, missing the point entirely – with few exceptions, Americans have no right to say “don’t sell my data.”

Companies that lobbied to repeal these rules are hurting themselves as well as their customers. If they want to do business in Europe, they will have to comply with the new data protection law that takes effect there next May. It requires individuals’ opt-in consent to process their sensitive information, and their clear, unambiguous consent for non-sensitive data. The demise of the FCC’s broadband privacy rules would provide a good basis for challenging the Privacy Shield agreement between the EU and U.S., which is supposed to ensure that Europeans’ personal information is just as well protected when it’s in the hands of U.S. companies as it is at home.

Repealing the FCC’s broadband privacy rules through the use of the Congressional Review Act prevents the agency from ever adopting similar privacy and security requirements again. This is short-sighted and unwise. We should be striving to raise our level of privacy protection, not lower it. President Trump should recognize this as a bad deal for Americans and reject it.

 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.