President Trump signed congressional legislation late Monday that repeals the Federal Communications Commission’s rules that would have prevented broadband ISPs from tracking and selling its customers’ online information.
Despite opposition from civil liberties groups, democrats who voted against the measure and many consumers themselves, ISPs no longer have to worry about FCC privacy restrictions that were set to go into effect later this year.
The move is a major blow to privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. In a statement, the EFF vowed to continue to fight for privacy protections.
“We urge state lawmakers and technology providers to look for ways to shore up individual privacy until Congress is ready to listen to the consumers who don’t want to trade away their basic privacy rights in order to access the internet,” wrote Kate Tummerello, policy analyst with the EFF.
“Rolling back this legislation is an assault on the core tenets of consumer privacy,” said Scott Petry, CEO of security and privacy firm Authentic8. “Unlike search engines or e-commerce sites, they collect everything: medical, financial, recreational, search, social, and more. Literally, 100 percent of the network traffic from the network.”
For the telecom industry and many republican lawmakers that supported the rollback, the move is a major win. The Internet and Television Association, a cable industry lobbying group, had long argued that current rules were unfair and burdensome.
“Withdrawing the FCC rule marks an important step toward restoring a sensible online privacy framework that protects consumers’ personal information and treats all internet companies equally,” said Internet and Television Association in a statement. It argued that ISPs will be beholden to the same privacy standards as internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.
The Federal Trade Commission, which currently governs how companies such as Google and Facebook use customer data, will now oversee ISPs. Critics argued the FCC privacy rules were stricter and that the FTC privacy rules for ISPs are weak. Compounding the problem is that the FTC has no authority to create new rules.
“The sky isn’t falling,” said Lance Cottrell, chief scientist at Ntrepid and founder of Anonymizer.com. “For years ISPs have had the ability to do this. It’s only been recently that there was legislation that was set to go into place to prevent this type of spying.”
“Because there is so much light being shone on this issue, we may in fact see ISPs pressured to contractually offer the type of privacy protection that they are not legally obligate to offer,” Cottrell said. However, he cautioned, “What happens when people move on and they aren’t paying attention in six months?”