US Congress backs biggest privacy U-turn in internet history

29 Mar 201710 Shares

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US Congress. Image: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

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With your data soon to be for sale, could this be the biggest betrayal of customer trust in the US telecoms industry?

The US Congress has voted to overturn what had been the strongest privacy protections afforded to broadband customers.

The US House of Representatives yesterday (28 March) voted 215-205 to repeal rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year to protect user privacy.

‘Make no mistake, by a vote of 215 to 205, a slim majority of the House of Representatives have decided to give our personal information to an already highly profitable cable and telephone industry, so that they can increase their profits with our data’
– ERNESTO FALCON

The measure will now go before US president Donald Trump, who is (unsurprisingly) likely to approve it.

Critics of the countermeasure backed by the Republicans warn that ISPs will be now free to sell customers’ private data without their consent.

This includes data on the sites they visit, the apps they use, their search history, their children, their geolocation, the content of their emails and, potentially, health and financial data.

Opting out of moral safeguards

Last year, previous FCC chairman Tom Wheeler established rules stating that ISPs must obtain ‘opt in’ consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information.

These rules carried stringent requirements that all data must be secure and, if a breach occurs, customers must be notified quickly.

However, similar to changes in the areas of environmental protection and health, the Trump regime has sought to repeal measures brought in under former US president Barack Obama.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, has promised to protect consumers’ online privacy.

“I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework,” Pai said in a statement following the vote.

“In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

Civil liberty groups are in uproar over the decision and warned that consumers in the US will have to pay a privacy tax of sorts by having to invest in virtual private networks (VPNs) to safeguard their information.

“That is a poor substitute for legal protections,” said Ernesto Falcon of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Make no mistake, by a vote of 215 to 205, a slim majority of the House of Representatives have decided to give our personal information to an already highly profitable cable and telephone industry, so that they can increase their profits with our data. The vote broke along party lines, with Republicans voting yes, although 15 Republicans broke ranks to vote against the repeal with the Democrats.”

In a statement before the vote, the White House made it clear that it cares very little about the ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ rights of consumers who do not want their private data sold by ISPs or other companies.

“If S J Res 34 were presented to the president, his advisers would recommend that he sign the bill into law,” the Trump regime said.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com