Congress Contemplates Making it Illegal to Protect Consumer Privacy Online | Electronic Frontier Foundation

When you go online you reveal a tremendous amount of private information about yourself. What you browse, what you purchase, who you communicate with—all reveal something personal about you. Long ago, Congress made privacy a legal right, so that your telephone company was prohibited from using its position as your communications provider to exploit your personal information. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently updated the protections to apply when you use your broadband provider. Now in the near future, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and other major cable and telephone companies must get your permission before they can use sensitive information you reveal through your online activity.

However, the cable and telephone industry are actively lobbying Congress to not only eliminate your new privacy protections, but to go even further and potentially make it illegal for the federal government to protect your personal information online. Leading the charge to dismantle your legal right to privacy online from the cable and telephone industry are Senator Flake (R-AZ) in the Senate and Congresswoman Blackburn (R-TN) in the House. In fact, they appear so determined to eviscerate consumer privacy laws that have been on the books for more than two decades that they intend to use a rare and far reaching tool known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

A Congressional Review Act Repeal of Consumer Privacy Would Eliminate Your Right to Control Your Personal Information

The CRA creates a procedure that can invalidate a recently enacted rule on an expedited schedule that  bypasses the Senate filibuster and prohibits the enactment of “substantially similar” rules in the future until Congress passes a new law. The “substantially similar” provision has never been tested in courts and could possibly bar the FCC from enacting future consumer privacy rules even if they are more industry friendly. Worst yet, the Federal Trade Commission was recently ruled that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to lack the authority to penalize cable and telephone companies if they deceive their customers, meaning the FCC is the only broadband consumer protection agency. That could result in years of your private information being at the complete mercy of cable and telephone companies who would face no federal repercussions from monetizing and reselling your personal information without your permission and without your knowledge.

You don’t often hear about the CRA because it has rarely been used successfully. It usually fails because the President in office favors the rules and regulations its administration has created and would veto Congressional attempts to repeal. For example, network neutrality rules from 2010 were under a CRA but failed to gather the majority of votes needed in the Senate for their repeal. However, when a new President from the opposing party comes into power and they have a unified control over Congress, CRA repeals have their best chance of enactment. This year alone multiple bills have been passed under the CRA and are heading to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law. The question remains whether Congress intends to eviscerate consumer privacy under this vehicle and recent reports indicate that a bill will be introduced soon unless you demand that your elected representatives protect your right to online privacy.

No Federal Agency Will be Allowed to Protect Online Consumer Privacy if Congress Passes a CRA Repeal

Further compounding the gravity of the damage Congress is being asked to inflict on consumer privacy for the cable and telephone industry is the potential that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may also be barred from addressing deceptive conduct of the cable and telephone industry after a Ninth Circuit ruling in favor of AT&T. This is because under the Federal Trade Commission Act, the agency does not have jurisdiction over common carriers. Prior to the Ninth Circuit decision, it was believed that going after deceptive market activity of a common carrier such as advertising was still permissible for the FTC. However, for the states that are bound by the Ninth Circuit’s decision (that is Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) it is in fact the law that the FTC cannot act to protect consumers from deceptive acts by the cable and telephone industry. In other words, the cable and telephone industry could not only harvest your personal information but they do not have to be transparent about their activity. They can even go so far as being deceptive without facing repercussions from the federal consumer protection agencies.

We Need You To Tell Congress NO on Taking Away Your Privacy Rights

Do something to protect your rights online today and tell your representatives in Congress to oppose efforts to undo the FCC’s crucial broadband privacy rules.

 

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/02/congress-contemplating-making-it-illegal-protect-consumer-privacy-online

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