US Senate passes motion to let ISPs share customer data with no consent

24 Mar 2017

Door to the US Capitol building. Image: Normana Karia/Shutterstock

The US Senate is coming under fierce criticism from privacy advocates after it voted to allow ISPs to share citizens’ customer data without their permission.

Under the previous Obama administration, the US government forced internet service providers (ISPs) to seek the permission of its customers before sharing any of their data with a third party.

This included a provision to make ISPs a barrier between citizens and companies such as Alphabet and Facebook, to prevent the latter from taking their data with the intention of profiting from it.

Some of the sensitive information available to ISPs included details on people’s health, finances, location and even information on their children.

Now, according to Reuters, the US Senate has narrowly passed a vote – by 50 votes to 48 – to repeal this regulation, which would allow ISPs to sell on data to whoever they wanted to.

Repealing the regulation had been a focus for many of the US’s biggest ISPs, including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who have spent the past few weeks lobbying lawmakers to come to this conclusion.

Speaking about the decision, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell described the regulation as having created “an uneven playing field”, where its “complexity discourages competition, innovation and infrastructure investment”.

Opposition mounts

Back in October, Republicans argued that Silicon Valley had an unfair advantage in digital advertising by having more customer data than ISPs.

However, criticism of the decision has come from both the senators who opposed the repeal and online privacy advocates.

“Republicans have just made it easier for Americans’ sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared and sold to the highest bidder without their permission,” said Democratic senator Ed Markey.

With the repeal still needing to pass through Congress, groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) have called on people to lobby their representatives to prevent it from becoming law.

“[ISPs] shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase and more without your consent,” the EEF said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic