House Expected To Vote On Rolling Back Internet Privacy Rules Tomorrow

Image courtesy of inajeep

If you like having any control over what your internet service provider does with the personal data it has on you, we’ve got some bad news: The House of Representatives is expected to vote tomorrow to reverse the FCC rules that limit what the Comcasts, AT&Ts, Verizons, and Charters of the world can do with the data they have on you.

The Senate has already approved this rollback, so if the House signs off it would go to the White House for President Trump’s signature, bringing the rules to an immediate end.

The House Committee on Rules is expected to approve the measure in a session starting at 5:00 p.m. (EDT) today, thus clearing it to move to the full House floor tomorrow.

Senators voted strictly along party lines in this matter. Given the GOP’s sizable majority in the House, more than 22 Republicans would need to break rank tomorrow in order to stop this resolution from passing.

The ISP privacy rule has been controversial since the FCC adopted it in Oct. 2016. Consumer and privacy advocates have long been in favor; the telecom and cable ISP industries have stood firmly against.

What’s In The Privacy Rule?

The rule basically splits up your data into two big buckets: Sensitive data that ISPs can’t use without your permission; and less-sensitive information that you can opt out of letting your ISP use or share.

Data in the “sensitive” bucket includes:

  • Geographic location
  • Children’s information
  • Health information
  • Financial information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Web browsing history
  • App usage history
  • The content of communications

Data in the less-sensitive category — the “let me opt out” bucket, includes basically everything else, like…

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your IP address
  • Your current subscription level
  • …anything else not in the “opt in” bucket.

Why Is This Being Rolled Back?

The rallying cry for opponents of the rule — including the FCC’s current chair, Ajit Pai — has been that it’s unfair and not “harmonious” for ISPs (like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc) to be regulated differently from so-called edge providers (internet companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon).

Edge providers are subject to the FTC’s authority when it comes to privacy; the Commission is the agency responsible for making sure a company sticks to the terms of its privacy policy, and suing when it doesn’t.

But the FTC is lacking two critical kinds of authority: It can’t make new rules, like the FCC can — and it can’t regulate Title II common carrier companies, which, thanks to the net neutrality rule the FCC adopted in 2015, internet services now are. That means stripping the FCC of authority to regulate ISPs leaves them completely free-floating, subject to enforcement by neither agency.

Critically, consumers also have a level of choice when it comes to edge providers that they largely don’t when it comes to ISPs. You can choose not to use Facebook, or to use a secure search engine instead of Google or Bing. But you probably can’t choose who provides internet service to your house or apartment, because cable companies tend to be local monopolies. And that also means you can’t just switch away from your provider — Cox, Comcast, Charter, or whomever else — if you find them handling your data in a way that harms you.

While Hill-watchers who support the ISP privacy rule are not optimistic about its fate, the vote hasn’t happened yet. The EFF has a rundown of what you can do between now and tomorrow if you’re interested in taking action.