Congress Just Gave Internet Providers the Green Light to Sell Your Browsing History Without Consent

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who introduced the bill in the Senate last week. Image: Getty.

The House of Representatives voted today to repeal rules preventing internet service providers from selling their customers’ web browsing and app usage data without explicit consent. The Senate passed the same bill last week, which means the only obstacle that remains is a signature from President Trump—and the White House has already signaled he will do so.

The rules would have required ISPs to get explicit opt-in consent from customers before selling their sensitive data, including web browsing history and app usage data. The rules hadn’t gone into effect yet, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai stopped the first provision, which would have required ISPs to keep customer data secure—what a concept!—from going into effect earlier this month.

Without these rules, “there will be no strong federal protection for consumers when it comes to how their ISP can use their information,” Dallas Harris, a policy fellow at the privacy advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Gizmodo. Under the current statute, customers must be allowed to opt out of letting their ISP sell their data, but without a rule to interpret that statute, it’s much harder to enforce. And the 2-1 Republican majority at the FCC is hardly desperate to enforce that rule. Eric Null, the policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, told Gizmodo it’s “highly unlikely” that we’d see any enforcement by the FCC if a provider doesn’t provide reasonable measures to opt out.

The rules were repealed using the Congressional Review Act, which was used only once before the Trump administration, but has been implemented seven times since January. Essentially, this means the FCC can’t issue any “substantially similar” rules in the future.

Gigi Sohn, former counselor for ex-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, told Gizmodo that it’s not clear whether this means the FCC would be prevented…

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