Access Now condemns U.S. Congressional vote to gut internet privacy

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. J. Res. 34 to revoke essential rules that protect people from some of the biggest threats to their privacy and security online. The legislation will revoke the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rule to give individuals control over how their data are collected and used by internet service providers (ISPs). We now urge the FCC to use the full extent of its authority to protect the privacy of broadband users. Further, we still hold ISPs to the strong standards set out in the rule. Even without regulators looking over their shoulders, the companies have the responsibility to respect our privacy.

“Congress today voted to sell off your privacy and your security online,” said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now. “Your internet service provider can see almost everything you do online — from many of the websites you visit, to apps you use, and even some of your private communications. ISPs want to sell off that treasure trove to increase corporate profits, and apparently Congress is fine with that.”

“If President Trump was serious about his campaign promises to stand up for the rights of the individual over the powerful special interests in Washington D.C., then he would veto this bill,” added White.

As they currently stand, the FCC rules empower individuals to decide whether service providers can share sensitive data with other companies, and provide an opt-out for other uses. The rules are also aimed at limiting the threat of malicious online attackers and making sure we know when our data has been exposed. These standards are not only important for people in the U.S. but send a signal globally that companies handling internet data must respect users’ privacy and safeguard their security. The European Union is currently reforming legislation on the confidentiality of electronic communications to increase protection for users. By repealing the FCC rules, the U.S. will stand at odds with one of its major economic partners.

The rule was enacted by the FCC through a rigorous process and months of public input. The U.S. Congress used a process called the Congressional Review Act to revoke the rule. That blunt review also handcuffs the agency from promulgating any “substantially similar” rule.

“This resolution is a vote for big corporate profits over the rights and civil liberties of the people,” said Drew Mitnick, Policy Counsel at Access Now. “Congress is selling our cybersecurity to increase profits for some of the biggest companies, and the most generous political donors, in the United States.”