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US House votes to undo broadband privacy rules

The U.S. House of Representatives has followed the Senate in voting to repeal privacy rules that can prevent broadband providers from selling customers’ internet-browsing histories and other data without their permission.

On Tuesday, the House voted 215-205 to do away with the privacy rules that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission passed last year. The rules had yet to come into effect.

They require broadband carriers to first obtain opt-in approval from customers before using and sharing their sensitive personal information, such as web browsing history, geo-location data and what applications they've used.

However, the new Trump administration and Republicans have opposed the rules, claiming they go too far to regulate the internet industry. The Senate's vote happened last week.

On Tuesday, House Republicans said the privacy rules were unfair to the market, subjugating broadband providers to stricter standards, while allowing internet companies such as Google and Facebook to continue collecting users’ data without their expressed consent.

“Internet users were stuck with a two-sided approach that causes confusion and dampens competition,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican from Ohio, during a debate before the vote.

Other Republicans like Rep. Leonard Lance, Republican for New Jersey, said the inconsistent rules were actually harming consumers, by creating a false sense of privacy. “In reality, the FCC’s rules arbitrarily treat ISP’s differently,” he said.

However, House Democrats accused Republicans of essentially throwing U.S. consumers’ privacy rights under the bus.   

“They no longer have the freedom to decide how to control their own information,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. “You have given that freedom away to big corporations.”

Democrats also pointed out the privacy rules ask that broadband providers take reasonable measures to protect customer’s data, including issuing notifications when a breach occurs.   

“Consumers want more privacy protection, not less,” Rep. Frank Pallone, Democrat for New Jersey said.

On the same day, the White House said that the Trump administration was in favor of repealing the privacy rules. That means the regulations will almost certainly be rolled back, when the resolution is sent to the President for signing into law.

Tuesday’s vote was a blow for privacy advocates, who fear that broadband providers will be able to sell customers’ internet-browsing history to the highest bidder.

“Companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post.

The American Civil Liberties Union said, “it is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.”

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