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House sends bill scrapping online privacy regulation to Trump

30 March 2017

Congress had sent to President Donald Trump legislation that would scrap an online privacy regulation, a move that would allow internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule issued in October was meant to ensure consumers had greater control over how internet service providers shared information. However, according to critics, the rule would have adversely impacted innovation.

The rule was voted down 215-205 in the Congress, while the Senate had already voted to block it.

The vote comes as part of Republicans' efforts to strike down regulations issued during the final months of Democratic President Barack Obama's tenure. However, the vote was closer this time with 15 Republicans siding with Democrats in the effort to retain the rule.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat California) said Republicans put profits over the privacy concerns of US citizens.

"Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission," Pelosi said, Associated Press reported. "Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families."

Industry groups pointed out that internet companies like Google did not have to ask for permission of users for tracking what sites they visit. They faulted the rule saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers.

Meanwhile, according to Brian Funk of The Washington Post, the October regulation would have barred internet providers from collecting, storing, sharing and selling certain types of personal information, including browsing histories, app usage data, location information and more without the consent of users.

He says with the regulation now scrapped, though it would be possible in theory to go to an internet provider and buy a person's browsing history it would not work out that way in reality.

Many internet service providers (ISPs) had privacy policies that might cover this type of information and if an ISP shared or sold an individual's personal information in violation of its own privacy policy, a state attorney general could take the company to court, according to Travis LeBlanc, a former enforcement bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission.

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