On the heels of the Senate vote last week that approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to invalidate broadband privacy rules adopted by the FCC in October 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the resolution Tuesday by a 215-205 margin. While Tuesday’s vote fell largely along partisan lines, fifteen Republicans joined the Democratic minority, which voted unanimously against the measure. The resolution now moves to the desk of President Trump who is expected to sign the measure into law. Issuing a press statement in conjunction with the House vote, the Trump Administration confirmed that it “strongly supports” Congressional efforts to roll back FCC rules on broadband privacy which the White House characterized as a departure from the “technology-neutral framework for online privacy” established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In addition to repealing FCC rules that required Internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain opt-in consent from consumers before collecting and sharing certain types of “sensitive” data that includes (among others) geolocation data, web browsing history and financial information, the resolution also prohibits the FCC from adopting similar rules in the future that govern ISP collection and disclosure of consumer personal information. Although Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) lamented during floor debate that Congress was “poised . . . to betray the American people on one of the subjects they care most about—their privacy,” House Communications Subcommittee Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) rejected claims that the measure would jeopardize the privacy of sensitive consumer data, asserting: “the FCC already has the authority to enforce the privacy obligations of broadband service providers on a case-by-case basis.” Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai—a dissenter against the broadband privacy order—told reporters that “the FCC’s own overreach created the problem we are facing.” Pai pledged that the agency will “work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework” that returns “jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC.”
Representatives of broadband ISPs welcomed the House vote. As a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association applauded the House action as “an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all Internet companies,” Meredith Attwell Baker, the CEO of wireless association CTIA, thanked supporters of the resolution in Congress for “helping to restore regulatory clarity.” Emphasizing, however, that the FTC “cannot regulate broadband providers due to a congressionally mandated exception for common carriers,” an official at Public Knowledge warned that, “once President Trump signs this resolution, there will be no effective federal cop on the beat to proactively protect consumer information collected by ISPs.”