U.S. lawmakers roll back internet privacy rules for ISPs

WASHINGTON DC, USA – US lawmakers voted Tuesday, March 28, to roll back rules that would block internet service providers from selling user data to third parties, following a heated debate over privacy protections.

The House of Representatives voted 215-205 to overturn the Federal Communications Commission rule, following last week's 50-48 vote in the Senate.

The move followed a fierce debate over digital privacy protections over the rule that would have required service providers to get permission before selling customer data to third parties.

Some activists say the latest vote frees major providers like Comcast and Verizon to sell sensitive private data for targeted advertising; others contend these firms will now be able to compete on an equal footing with internet giants like Google and Facebook for online marketing.

The rule was passed last year by the US regulator with a majority of Democrats appointed by former president Barack Obama, a scenario that has been reversed with the election of President Donald Trump.

Natasha Duarte of the Center for Democracy and Technology said internet providers have sensitive data on users such as web browsing, video viewing, religious information, sexual preferences, health conditions and location.

"These are some of the most intimate details about people's lives, and customers should have control over how companies can use and share this information," she said in a blog post.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi opposed the measure, saying "Americans shouldn't have to give up every shred of privacy when they go online."

During floor debate, she said "Republicans want this (private) information to be sold without your permission."

Others said the rule passed last year imposed unnecessary regulations on carriers that already must comply with laws on consumer protection and deceptive practices.

Republican Representative Greg Walden said the bill would roll back "short-sighted rules that only apply to only one part of the internet," and exempt the big online firms like Google and Facebook.

The White House said it supported the move to overturn, saying "the rule departs from the technology-neutral framework for online privacy" by creating "very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor."

Babette Boliek of the American Enterprise Institute said the FCC rule would give consumers rights with their internet service provider but not with digital applications such as Facebook or Google.

"Why doesn't the FCC just apply the same privacy law to Google and Facebook? Because it can't," Boliek said in a recent column.

"The FCC rule will not affect advertising on Facebook or Google." – Rappler.com