Internet service providers will soon be allowed to sell your browsing history, financial and health data, and other personal information to third-parties according to a bill passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.
The Senate pushed the measure through in a party-line vote earlier in March, and the White House has signaled its support of the legislation, meaning that it will almost certainly become law. Though House Democrats mounted a last-minute stand against the rollback of Obama-era rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year, they came up 10 votes shy; the bill passed by a margin of 215 to 205.
The Obama-era rules that the new law will nullify mandated that internet service providers ask for opt-in consent from users before selling sensitive information to advertisers, a revenue stream that ISPs have long wanted to tap.
“If the bill is signed into law, companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon will have free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements,” Electronic Frontier Foundation legislative counsel Ernesto Falcon wrote in a blog post.
Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the Free Press Action Fund, said in a statement that House Republicans “voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits.”
FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who as an FCC commissioner disapproved of the privacy rules when they were introduced last year, said he believes internet providers’ privacy policies are best regulated by the FTC. Pai said in a press release that “the FCC’s own overreach created the problem we are facing today.”
“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework,” said Pai, who previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon. “In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”
The best way for consumers to shield their internet behavior from an ISP is to use a VPN — a virtual private network. There are several options from which to choose depending on one’s tech savvy and budget.