Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump on Tuesday that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access in an era of Republican dominance.
In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.
The Senate has voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year. If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.
The providers could also sell their users information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data all of whom could use the data without consumers consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.
This is a tremendous loss for each of us as American citizens. I liken it to driving down the highway. By and large, no one knows what highway or street you choose to drive down. However, the places you visit along that road (fast food, retail, etc.) know when you walk in the door. The same was true of the Internet. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) didn’t collect information on where you drove along the information superhighway. Only the destination sites (e.g. Google, Facebook, news websites) collected information on your browsing habits. This new law allows you to be monitored anywhere you go and for other to profit from the observation of your behavior.