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Lawmakers could start killing the FCC rules that protect your privacy tonight

Published Mar 22nd, 2017 10:04PM EDT

According to a report in Recode, lawmakers in the Senate could act tonight to tear down privacy rules instituted by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama. The rules in question force internet service providers to gain customers’ permission before selling their data to third parties.

ISPs have described those rules as burdensome and unnecessary; the FCC at the time said they were vital to protecting consumers’ data. But under the new Chairman, Ajit Pai, the FCC has been rebranding itself as a body for regulating the technical aspects of telecoms, rather than the industry as a whole.

The measure being considered in the Senate is called a resolution of disapproval, and serves to overturn rules made by a federal agency. Prior to this year, resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) had only been used once, but Republican lawmakers have been busy since January using the move to overturn rules made by the outgoing President’s administration.

Under the current FCC rules, websites you visit are free to track your behavior and sell that data to ad-targeting networks, ISPs are (currently) forced to get customer permission before doing the same. If Flake’s resolution passes, that safeguard will be abolished. The resolution has the backing of 34 other senators so far, so it seems likely to pass.

Assuming the resolution passes, ISPs will be able to collect location, financial, healthcare and browsing data from customers by default. There will likely still be a privacy opt-out, which will allow customers who want to trawl through a website to opt out of having data collected, but the changes will nonetheless affect the vast majority of consumers.

The resolution is backed by Ajit Pai, the new head of the FCC. Pai is a former lawyer for Verizon whose broad opinion seems to be that the FCC should stick to regulating spectrum and technical standards, rather than regulating the telecoms industry or advocating for consumers.

To that end, Pai has already closed investigations into wireless carriers opened under the Obama administration, killed regulations proposed or implemented by the Obama-era FCC, and doesn’t see net neutrality as important or beneficial.