By Kimberly Moore

On October 27, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules protecting the privacy of broadband customers. Their report, released November 2nd of that year, states that the FCC is applying the privacy requirements of the Communications Act of 1934 to the more advanced communications technology of today – broadband Internet access service (BIAS). Last year, the FCC stated their unified belief that privacy rights of consumers are “fundamental because they protect important personal interests” such as freedom from identity theft, financial loss, or other economic harms, along with concerns that “intimate, personal details could become the grist for the mills of public embarrassment or harassment” or the basis for judgments including discrimination. The rule, titled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunication Services” was deemed effective as of January 3, 2017.

Just barely six months later, on March 23, 2017, the United States Senate voted to overturn the Internet privacy rules introduced just months prior by the FCC. According to the official website for United States federal legislative information, Congress.gov, the joint resolution was introduced by Senator of Arizona Jeff Flake. Joint Resolution Number 34 states that “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to ‘Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunication Services’, and such rule shall have no force or effect.” In regards to the FCC’s protection of privacy rules and quoting directly from the Congressional Record of Proceedings and Debates of the United States Congress, Senator of Texas John Cornyn stated “These are rules that hurt job creators and stifle economic growth.” The following is a quote from Senator Schatz in response to Senator Cornyn:

People no longer trust organizations – public or private – to protect the data they collect. Today, we are going to make that worse. That is because broadband providers know our complete browsing history… They know everything we do online, everything we search for on a daily basis. Think about how personal that is…It is totally reasonable for broadband providers to have to ask customers for their consent before they take that information – our browsing history, what we do online – and sell it to a third party. That will no longer be the case after the Republicans vote for this bill and it is enacted into law

Senator of Hawaii Brian Schatz urges onward expressing his serious concern for a “no” vote on the joint resolution. Schatz even goes so far as to say that “this is the single biggest step backward in online privacy in many years.” The joint resolution (S.J. Res. 34) was passed with a vote of 50-yeas to 48-nays.

According to reports provided by the Center of Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks donations to political candidates, eight of the country’s largest internet providers gave an estimated $1,726,288 to 22 senators voting to suppress FCC regulations in the last six years. The report specifically shows that Senator of Texas John Cornyn received $40.5 thousand from Verizon and $57.2 thousand from AT&T, among other amounts smaller in size from companies such as Time Warner, Comcast, and Cox.

The bill was introduced March 7, 2017, passed the Senate on March 23, 2017, and is now awaiting approval by the House of Representatives. If the bill passes the House, it continues for approval by the President who then decides to sign it or to veto it. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law; if the President does not sign the bill, it is sent back to Congress.

Picture from Vocativ.com – Sourced from the Center of Responsive Politics

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