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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/23/17

Senate Republicans Vote to Strip Americans of Online Privacy Protections

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If passed by the House and signed by President Trump, resolution of disapproval would strike down the FCC's common-sense public safeguards

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution of disapproval to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's landmark broadband-privacy rules and expose internet users to spying by companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

The resolution, based on an arcane Newt Gingrich-era law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), was passed by a simple Senate majority. If it passes the House and is signed by President Trump, the resolution will eliminate rules requiring an internet service provider to obtain opt-in consent from its customers before selling their private data, like their web-browsing histories, or making use of that information for advertising purposes.

The CRA process, used successfully only once before the Trump administration took office this year, may also prevent the FCC from adopting any new consumer-privacy protections that are substantially the same as the disapproved rules.

Free Press Action Fund Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

"Senate Republicans just struck a massive blow against everyone who uses the internet, dismantling rules protecting people's private information from unauthorized use and abuse by cable and phone companies. At their core these rules simply would give people the right to decide for themselves whether to allow their ISPs to share or sell their personal information, including their web-browsing histories. Senator Jeff Flake and his colleagues have the audacity to claim it was necessary to overturn the rules to protect people's online privacy. That's false. Their comments are rhetoric dressed up to cloak their real intentions: letting internet service providers profit off your private information.

"It's no secret that lawmakers like Senator Flake and other sponsors of this measure receive substantial campaign contributions from cable and wireless companies. Now Flake and his colleagues sided with those companies to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans.

"Your personal information is a gold mine for companies on the internet, and people need the essential FCC protections adopted last year to prevent outright exploitation. If this resolution is enacted, ISPs will be able to work with brokers to skirt laws specifically designed to protect your health and financial data to buy and sell information on your online habits. They won't have to go straight into your medical records, but they'll track your movements online and know the ailments and medications you've researched. Based on that, they can determine whether you have a particular illness or need a prescription to treat it. Access to this data can also result in discrimination that circumvents longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment and consumer credit. In other words, lenders and employers armed with this information could cost many people a good job, good credit or a good place to live.

"In their hypocritical opposition to these privacy safeguards, Republicans are suggesting that we should jettison the common-sense rules on the books at the FCC in favor of some hypothetical new law. It's repeal with no good replacement yet again. The majority has yet to offer any regulatory framework that will truly protect people from this predatory spying. If this CRA reaches Trump's desk there will be no effective privacy oversight for ISPs in the federal government at all. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the FCC is the only agency with jurisdiction over broadband ISPs and now these senators are trying to kneecap the agency and prevent the passage of similar rules. The grim reality is that they just don't care; Republican lawmakers are willing to put ordinary Americans at great risk to keep cable lobbyists happy.

"If we're to stop the war on internet privacy from going any further, people need to call their representatives in the House and let them know they demand and deserve more control over their online data, not less."
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