Americans Lose Privacy Rights in Senate Vote

By: Jeff Chester | Mar 23 2017
Now will be exposed to ongoing commercial surveillance of their most personal information

Americans lost a crucial right today as the GOP-controlled Senate voted to overturn the only federal protection that could have protected their privacy online. This is a key victory for lobbyists from the ISP monopolies, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. These companies have built a “Big Data" business model to track—and profit from—our every move online. Today, Americans who use personal computers, mobile phones and other online devices are the victims of continuous monitoring of their digital activities. Internet companies know where we shop, what we buy, who are friends are, how we use multiple “screens" and much more. ISPs have also acquired the power to take our data and generate powerful insights that can be used in far-reaching ways. Without the FCC rule, American ISP customers will have no real privacy protections because of current limitations placed on the Federal Trade Commission by Congress and the courts.

The FCC rule would have been the first new commercial privacy protection for Americans since Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998.  Under the FCC safeguard passed last October, a subscriber would first have to give consent—opt-in—before their most sensitive data (such as geo-location and web browsing activities) could be used in digital dossiers designed to deliver targeted marketing. It’s clear that the GOP Senate, the big broadband companies, and major advertisers were terrified of having to ask American consumers permission before using their information.  

Today’s vote should trigger the European Union to begin reviewing the so-called “Privacy Shield” agreement that allows data to flow between the EU to the U.S. Today’s decision puts our trading partners—and the U.S. companies that depend on the flow of information—at risk. We will ask our EU consumer colleagues to press the European Commission to revoke the “shield."

Today’s Senate vote was also a key learning moment for Americans, who heard from Sen. Ed Markey and others concerning what is at stake as broadband companies now gain a front-row seat to gather and sell our personal information.

Even if the new FCC rule is overturned by the House and signed by the President, there will be an ongoing campaign to expose the powerful data-gathering apparatus that is being assembled by the phone and cable broadband companies.


Jeff Chester
CDD is a consumer digital rights group based in DC.

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