Congress rolls back Internet privacy protections


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal a Federal Communications Commission regulation, last week, that would have barred Internet Service Providers, or ISP’s, from selling your information to third parties, without first getting your permission.

The Senate passed the measure the previous week, so now the resolution goes to President Trump, who can sign the legislation or veto it.

With passage of the bill, Internet Service Providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Spectrum, can gather, store, and sell your personal information–including your browsing history, online shopping habits, and apps and GPS history on your cell phone.

“Your information is very valuable,” said Scott Shackelford, Chair of the Cyber Security at Indiana University, Bloomington. “A lot of people do not treat it that way. We are very used to these days of giving away our private information without being compensated for it.”

The more of your information that is out there in cyberspace, Shackelford said, the easier it is for you to become a victim of identity theft.

Proponents of the measure said it is a matter of leveling the playing field, since large Internet companies such as Google and Facebook are already collecting personal data, and selling it to advertisers, because they are not regulated by the government. ISP’s are regulated.

Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “This was simply to say, ‘Let’s go back to the drawing board’ and regulate all entities the same,” and Rep. Flake believes there is a simple way for consumers to keep their personal data from being sold to the highest bidder.

“You can always opt out by contacting the Internet Service Provider and saying you don’t want your data to be sold.”

But Georgia Tech privacy expert Peter Swire counters, there is nothing in the law now that requires ISP’s to offer an opt out provision, “The broadband providers don’t have to honor your request about how your information is handled.”

If it is any consolation to those upset by the reversal of privacy rules, supporters of the measure claim consumers are not losing anything because the FCC’s privacy regulations had not gone into effect before Congress repealed them.

On the other hand, because of the way Congress rolled the regulations back, the FCC can never reinstate them. That would take another act of Congress.

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