A pair of Republican bills would allow telecommunications companies to sell their customers' private internet data -- but their sponsors claim the legislation would actually protect consumer privacy.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S.J.Res 34, which would expand the Congressional Review Act to strip away privacy protections established in October by the Federal Communications Commission with broad bipartisan support, reported Privacy News Online.
Flake's bill, which has gained more than 20 Republican co-sponsors, would allow lawmakers to repeal Obama-era privacy rules by a simple majority vote in the House and Senate and would prevent the FCC from establishing similar regulations in the future.
The rules passed last year prohibit internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon from collecting and selling virtually any subscriber data, including browser history and app usage, without prior user permission.
Flake insists his resolution "would not change or lessen existing consumer privacy regulations," which he said should be overseen as it has in the past by the Federal Trade Commission, but is intended instead to stop the FCC from expanding its jurisdiction through "midnight regulation."
"Privacy is also a cornerstone of consumer protection, with federal enforcement agencies striking an appropriate balance between innovation and security in their regulations," Flake argued. "But just as a flawed line of code can render a new firewall program useless, the new privacy rules that were rushed through in the waning days of the Obama administration risk crashing our longstanding privacy-protection regime."
Telecom giants argue the FCC's privacy rules give an advantage in targeted advertising to companies like Google and Facebook, which are subject to the FTC's looser privacy rules.
Internet service providers already store their customers' browsing history, and they've lobbied Congress for years for the ability to sell that highly valuable data.
Flake's bill was filed March 7, and it was followed the next day by a similar bill, H.J.Res 86, introduced in the House by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), which has attracted 17 Republican co-sponsors.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who sits on the committee overseeing the FCC, said the new rules would strip away privacy protections and leave consumers with little leverage against telecommunications "robber barons."
“Consumers will have no ability to stop internet service providers from invading their privacy and selling sensitive information about their health, finances, and children to advertisers, insurers, data brokers or others who can profit off of this personal information, all without their affirmative consent,” Markey said.