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U.S. Senate Passes Bill to Pull Back Consumer Privacy Rules

The rules put in place by the FCC by the previous administration are in danger of being scrapped.

Privacy rules that would’ve forced telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon to notify customers and ask for permission before selling personal information, including browsing history and app usage, are in danger of being scrapped. A bill to block the rules before they can take effect has passed the Senate 50-48 along party lines.

The rules in question were conceived under Tom Wheeler’s stint as FCC chairman during the Obama administration, and were passed in October of last year. The rules would have required telecoms to receive consent from customers before selling their personal information (browsing history and app usage, for example). The bill passed today would rescind those new rules — as the rules had not yet been implemented, this means nothing will change for consumers.

Republican lawmakers have argued that the rules unfairly target telecoms while ignoring other tech companies like Google and Facebook, which collect and sell the same kinds of data. They also argue that the rules are in breach of the constitutional rights of the corporations that collect the data, although it’s not clear what exactly is meant by that. Republican Senator Jeff Flake said of the bill, “Passing this CRA will send a powerful message that federal agencies can’t unilaterally restrict constitutional rights and expect to get away with it.”

On the other hand, the rules would have given consumers the knowledge of and decision-making power over what telecoms do with their personal information. While privacy was the principal reason for the new rules, telecoms pull in a significant amount of revenue selling off this personal information — something users effectively provide to telecoms without compensation.

The FCC rules have not been rescinded yet. Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it will need to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the president. The full text of the proposed rules from last year and the bill to rescind them can both be read in full online.