The US House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ditch broadband privacy rules that have prevented Internet service providers (ISPs) from selling their customers’ data.
The rules, passed last October, protect US consumers’ online data and personal information—including web browsing history, app usage and location—from being sold by Internet providers without consumers’ permission.
Campaigners opposed to the vote said it would offer cybercriminals more opportunities.
Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer told media: “Gutting these privacy rules won’t just allow Internet Service Providers to spy on us and sell our personal information, it will also enable more unconstitutional mass government surveillance, and fundamentally undermine our cybersecurity by making our sensitive personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, and foreign governments.”
Senator Bernie Sanders also lambasted congressional Republicans for essentially repealing the rules, which were drawn up by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The move also prevents “future privacy protections from being put into place,” Sanders wrote.
The executive director of the lobby group, Privacy International, Dr. Gus Hosein called the vote a“noticeable backslide” and said “it further widens the chasm between the U.S. and the growing international consensus of the need to protect internet privacy.”
Hosein predicted increasing conflict between legal regimes across the world, as other jurisdictions move to strengthen data protection laws.
In Europe, for example, rules will be tightened up with the EU commission’s General Data Protection Regulation due to come into force in 2018.
A raft of consumer groups and civil liberty campaigners have spoken out against the House vote.
But in a blog post on Tuesday Len Shneyder, vice chairman of the Member Advisory Committee (MAC) of the Email Experience Council (EEC), which is owned by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), said the FCC privacy laws “were an overreach of the jurisdiction of the FCC.”
The rules, he wrote, “would greatly undermine businesses that rely on ISP data as a source of their overall big data initiatives.”
Major internet companies such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T had pushed for the vote on the grounds that Facebook, Google and other search engines are able to sell data without consumers’ permission.
The NCTA – The Internet & Television Association welcomed the House’s vote. “Today’s Congressional action to repeal the FCC’s misguided rules marks an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all internet companies,” the organization said in a statement.
“With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design’ principles and honor the FTC’s successful consumer protection framework.”
But critics have observed that with the repeal of the FCC rules, the FTC lacks statutory powers to enforce penalties of its guidelines.