NEW YORK – On the heels of a party-line Senate vote to strip consumers of critical privacy protections for their online data, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the U.S. House of Representatives to stand with consumers and protect personal consumer information from being sold to third parties or the highest bidding companies.
“A family’s personal information shouldn’t go to the highest bidder and an internet connection shouldn’t come with a welcome mat for companies to walk all over you without your knowledge,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This vote to dismantle and kill the protections put in place for a person’s private information is a real danger to consumers, who, for years now, have been on the losing end of privacy battles. That’s why I am urging the House to prevent these consumer rights from being dismantled and eroded. The little privacy we have left, the kind that enshrines our personal emails, our health information, our finances and even the websites our kids visit must not be made available to everyone and anyone. That’s why I will continue to fight this rollback on consumer privacy tooth and nail.”
Earlier this week, Republicans in the Senate voted in support of a bill to roll back critical broadband privacy regulations that were put in place by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) last October to prevent internet service providers (ISPs), like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, from collecting and selling sensitive information. If this bill passes in the House, the contents of an individual’s emails or web browsing history—which could include anything from health to finances to SSN and more– could be sold to third parties without the individual’s explicit consent. Schumer, who voted against this bill in the Senate, said that if the House allows the Senate bill to pass, it will be disarming consumers of the last available tool to safeguard their privacy. Schumer said that ISPs should be held to stricter standards and that consumers should be required to consent to this kind of information being sold to data brokers and other private companies looking to make money off of personal information.
The vote in the Senate (50-48) eliminates broadband privacy rules that would require ISPs to receive explicit opt-in consent from consumers prior to sharing “sensitive” personal data. Using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress can consider legislation to reverse regulations of the previous Administration by a simple majority vote. The broadband regulations that were enacted by the FCC last term were part of an effort to improve the way ISPs treat customer data. Under the rules, information such as one’s SSN, email contents, browsing history, precise geo-location, app usage, and health and financial information were defined as sensitive personal data. As a result, ISPs would be barred from using this data, unless the consumer consented. If passed by the House, this bill would allow broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others free rein to share this sensitive information with data farms and advertisers without affirmative consent. Furthermore, the legislation would prevent the FCC from reinstating similar privacy protections in the future.
Schumer made the case that by overturning the broadband privacy rules, companies will be able to learn more about an individual’s identity and track personal habits. For instance, Schumer said that ISPs may sell personal data on a person who might be pregnant and googling baby products; or ISPs may sell personal data on a person who might have cancer and is googling cancer treatment options; or a person who might have an addiction problem who is googling rehabilitation centers. Schumer said that these examples show how serious this issue is and how important consumer privacy is to people nationwide. Under the Senate bill, private browsing information and app-usage history is compromised.
Schumer today publicly urged the U.S. House of Representatives to help consumers protect their data by stopping the just-passed Senate bill from passing Congress. Schumer said this bill would hurt consumers who deserve the right to make their own decisions about who can access their personal internet data. Schumer said that companies should not be allowed to sell personal information about individual identities to third parties unless they have the person’s consent.