Congress has just sent legislation to President Trump that will strike down a set of landmark internet privacy regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October of last year.
Those FCC protections dictated what internet service providers could do with their customers’ sensitive data, including browsing habits, app usage, location data and Social Security numbers. If President Trump signs the new legislation into law — which he is expected to do — it would nullify those FCC rules, meaning that internet providers would have free reign to monitor their customers’ behavior online and use their information without permission, according to The Washington Post.
As well as monitoring user habits and behavior, internet providers could also sell user information to marketers and marketing agencies, financial firms, and other companies without their consent. Such data being available to those firms could open up the doorway for a new wave of privacy incursion. Additionally, Tuesday’s legislation would also forbid the FCC from issuing similar privacy protections in the future, WaPo reported.
Congress voted to dismantle those rules largely along party lines, with Republicans in favor of pulling back privacy protections. Last week, the Senate also voted to dismantle those measures. According to critics, those “overbearing” rules — passed under a Democrat-controlled FCC — allegedly stifled innovation and arbitrarily picked winners and losers in the industry, according to ABC News.
But while broadband companies and service providers celebrated the House vote as a victory, internet privacy activists aren’t similarly thrilled. Advocates are specifically worried that the FCC rules gave consumers greater control to stop companies from making money off of their private data, the New York Times reported. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told WaPo that Tuesday’s vote was a “tremendous setback” for American consumers, adding that it means “Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder.”
The vote comes at a crucial period in internet history, an era in which many of the rules governing internet access and usage may be reworked by the Trump Administration. Similarly, in the wake of government surveillance allegations and criminal data breaches, arguably more consumers than ever are concerned about their safety and privacy online.
Luckily, consumers aren’t entirely powerless to stop unwanted surveillance — whether by criminals, the government or service providers. Among the variety of privacy tools and methodsavailable to internet users are easy, simple options like a VPN — a virtual private network, which scrambles and encrypts your internet browsing and communications.