Resolutions in Congress could end an Obama-era Federal Communications Commission rule that would keep Americans' internet habits out of the hands of internet providers and advertisers. The FCC order requires Internet Service Providers, or I-S-Ps, such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to get consent from consumers before selling or sharing their data, ranging from browser history to app usage to browser tools that can act as geolocation tags. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, says this rule is based on an earlier ruling by the FCC that classified internet providers as utilities just like telephone service providers.
“When you pick up your landline telephone in your home and you make a call to your doctor or anybody else, the telephone company is not allowed to take lists of the people that you call and sell that for marketing purposes. And the reason they can't do that is the privacy provisions of the communications act."
If passed it would repeal the rule or any similarly proposed rules under the Congressional Review Act. The FCC approved a temporary stay on the rule at the beginning of March. FCC head Ajit Pai says the Federal Trade Commission should be in charge of privacy rules such as this one because that agency also handles rules for online entities such as Google and Facebook.
Opponents of the FCC rule also say it will put a substantial cost and burden on ISPs. However, Jeremy Gillula with the Electronic Frontier Foundation disputes this.
"Usually what they're talking about is that they are in some cases already making a ton of money on the side selling your information to marketers, usually without telling you. They like to keep it quiet because they know that there will be a lot of pushback if people discover that all of their information is being sold by ISPs."
Opponents of the rule also have argued that the information internet providers have access to is not "sensitive data." However, Stanley says providers can learn a lot about a person from "spying" on this information and that the higher stakes are Americans' right to privacy.
"I deserve privacy as an American in my communications and in my research online and what I read, what I download, and Americans all deserve that kind of privacy and I think that Americans expect that kind of privacy and would be shocked to learn that these companies want to do this kind of stuff."