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24 Mar 2017

US Senate repeals online data protection rules

Donald Trump was promising to protect and comfort the US citizens, but it seems that he can’t even protect their online data. First came the proposed replacement of the Obamacare, now it is all about colossal internet providers, handling their customers’ data how they want.

The US Senate voted to repeal regulations that required internet service providers to do more to protect their customers’ privacy than the actual sites such as Google and Facebook. 50 Republican senators voted to approve the repeal while 48 Democrats voted to reject it. US internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T hailed the Republican vote as a victory since they had strongly opposed the previous rules.

The repealed rules had been approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2016, while Barack Obama was still president. Internet providers were ordered to obtain consumers’ consent before using the information for their marketing campaigns. This information could be geolocation, financial and health data, and web-browsing history, which would be very useful for customized advertisements.

This vote used the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to strike down recently passed rules by federal agencies. The bill will now have to go to the House of Representatives, in which there will be held a second vote. In case the House of Representatives agrees with the Senate, it will mean the end of the online data protection for every US citizen. The reversal of the rules is also preventing also the FCC from passing similar strict privacy rules in the future, even if opinions change in the Congress.

Democratic Senator, Richard Blumenthal, said to the Senate that “this resolution is a direct attack on consumer rights, on privacy, on rules that afford basic protection against intrusive and illegal interference by the internet providers.” Mitch McConnell, said on behalf of the Republicans, that “the Senate overturned a regulation that made the internet an uneven playing field, increased complexity, discouraged competition, innovation and investments.” Democratic Senator Ed Markey expressed his opinion that “Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared and sold to the highest bidder without their permission.”

NCTA, a trade group representing the major cable providers, announced that “we support this step toward reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.” On the opposite side, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that “it is extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of the Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T.”

Trump’s appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, said that consumers will have protection even without the Obama administration internet provider rules. The advocacy group Consumers Union commented that “the vote is a huge step in the wrong direction, and it completely ignores the needs and concerns of consumers.”