Dems, advocates urge Trump to veto bill allowing ISPs to sell customers' web activity

"That's nonsense. ... There will be no privacy rules," two federal officials said of GOP claims that nixing the FCC law increases customers' privacy.
By Doug G. Ware  |  Updated April 4, 2017 at 8:12 AM
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April 3 (UPI) -- Nearly a week after Congress passed legislation to make it legal for Internet service providers to sell off customers' web browsing histories -- without their knowledge or consent -- Democrats continue to urge President Donald Trump to reject it.

Both congressional chambers each passed Senate Joint Resolution 34 last month and sent it onto the president's desk, where Trump is expected to sign it into law. By Monday, though, the bill still hasn't received presidential approval -- and opponents are mounting more urgent efforts to talk Trump out of endorsing it.

The proposal would scrap an Internet privacy law imposed by former President Barack Obama's administration that bars providers from selling customers' browsing habits to third-party marketers.

GOP supporters of the repeal argue that the privacy law is confusing and actually results in less privacy. Opponents counter that it's an attempt by Republicans to kowtow to lobbyists, not constituents, who are seeking additional revenue streams.

"Pleased that the House voted to roll back the FCC's flawed ISP privacy rules and taken steps to protect consumers," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said after the House passed the bill last week.

"Selling a customer's most sensitive personal data to the highest bidder without their consent is just plain wrong," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said via Twitter Monday.

Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress are leading the charge against S.J. Res 34.

"If President Trump clicks his pen and signs this resolution, consumers will be stripped of critical privacy protections in a New York Minute," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "A family's deeply personal information -- like Social Security number, finances and health background -- should not be sold to the highest bidder."

"[President Trump], the GOP wants to hide your taxes, but put Americans' browsing history up for sale," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted Monday. "You must veto S.J.Res. 34."

It's unclear when Trump might sign the legislation, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer has expressed presidential support for the bill in recent days.

"The White House supports Congress using its authority under the Congressional Review Act to roll back last year's FCC rules on broadband regulation," he said at a news briefing last week, saying the privacy rule is "unfair" to ISPs because they don't get to sell customer information like Google and Facebook do.

"This will allow all service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on an equal playing field," Spicer added.

Not a single Democrat has voted for the bill and multiple Republicans -- including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Tennessee Rep. John Duncan, Jr., California Rep. Tom McClintock and Washington Rep. Dave Reichert -- have also opposed it.

Friday, Blackburn, a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and chair of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said some citizens are confused on exactly what repealing the privacy law does.

"My office has received so many calls," she said in a video statement, pointing out that the Obama-era law allows both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to regulate privacy. "Some of my colleagues and I agree that it just does not make sense to have two federal agencies trying to regulate your online privacy. ... It causes confusion and leads to unnecessary regulation."

After the resolution was passed by the House, Blackburn said repealing the law will actually "enhance" customers' online privacy.

"That's nonsense," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed Friday. "The FCC's new rules are in keeping with the FTC's longstanding guidelines, and they match the expectations consumers have when they go online.

"If the legislation approved by Congress becomes law, there will be no privacy rules governing broadband providers. The FCC no longer will be able to protect consumer privacy and, because of arcane restraints on its jurisdiction, the FTC will be unable to pick up the slack."

Clyburn and McSweeny said the proposal will create "a massive gap in consumer protection law" because broadband and cable companies will have no discernible privacy requirements to meet.

"Anyone who supports a bill allowing ISPs to sell your browsing history ought to release their own browsing history first," Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said in a tweet last week. "It's only fair."

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