S.J.Res.34 and what this really means for your Internet privacy

On April 3rd, 2017 President Trump signed into law S.J.Res.34 – A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services” (see: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/34)

The Internet, news agencies, and the public seem to be scrambling on solutions to protect privacy. Before we do that, it is important to understand what exactly did S.J.Res.34 do? How will this effect you and your Internet privacy?

The answer is nothing. Your privacy no more secure or no less secure than it was before the law went into effect. Why? Congress didn’t change a law or create a new one, instead they prevented a new law that was passed in October 2016 from being implemented later this year. So, the status quo that was September 2016 and earlier just continues. If you want to examine it further, the law stopped rules from a government agency (FCC) from essentially enacting laws the FCC said they were going to enforce later this year.

Many people are arguing things did change, and this bill will now allow ISPs to collect and sell your personal information without your permission. Internet forums are already calling for crowd funding exercises that will let them buy the Internet history of their favorite Congressmen.

The FCC rules passed under Tom Wheeler were scheduled to take effect by the end of 2017 which would force ISPs to ask us if we wanted to have our data sold or not. It is possible ISPs were already selling data, without our permission. The FCC rules were scheduled to going into effect late 2017 requiring ISPs to ask for your permission. These rules were already suspended by the Commission’s Chairman, Ajit Pai. This is an important point: at no point in time was this regulation ever in effect. Claims that Congress somehow “rolled back” privacy protections are simply inaccurate. Consumers will continue to enjoy every degree of privacy online that they’ve had up to now. That means consumers are at the mercy of their ISP

I am a big believer in privacy. I am also a big believer in discussions and debate in finding middle ground between privacy, and homeland security. However, I do believe these laws must be passed in Congress, and enforced by the Executive Branch. That is why we I believe we need Congress to pass laws that protect Internet privacy that is reasonable.

There are quite a few fans of the FCCs pursue or privacy, net neutrality, and other initiatives under Tom Wheeler. However as with any government agency, the winds can change with each administration. That is why I believe we need Congress to pass laws protecting its citizens.

The FCCs privacy initiatives have had another unfortunate event for privacy advocates. Until recently, regulation of the collection and use of all personal information had long been the exclusive domain of the Federal Trade Commission, which polices advertising and anti-competitive behavior. For years, the FTC has taken frequent action, for example, when internet companies fail to live up to their own privacy policies or when they engage in objectively deceptive practices. The FTC had done a reasonably well and bipartisan job of protecting privacy. The unfortunate side-effect of the FCC’s now-challenged decision to regulate broadband providers as public utilities, the FTC’s legal authority over ISPs was abruptly cut off. As FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen recently noted, the agency has already brought “more than 150 privacy and data security enforcement actions, including actions against ISPs and against some of the biggest companies in the internet ecosystem,” comprising giants in search, advertising, content and e-commerce.

Below was the response by Congressman Dan Donovan, representing the 11th district of New York. His argument seems to be that it helps with privacy laws but it seems most people think the opposite. Where does his interpretation come from?

“As you may know, in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified internet service providers (ISPs) as “common carriers,” defined in Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 as any individual or company involved “in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio.” By doing so, however, the FCC revoked the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to regulate online privacy, which it had been doing for 20 years. The FCC used its newfound authority (some argue that the FCC had no right to remove this authority from the FTC) to issue a rule reversing the long-established method for consumers to opt out of data collection by their ISPs. The FTC called the rule “not optimal,” as it treats all web traffic as equally sensitive. For example, this rule would have considered data gathered from checking the weather online to be just as sensitive as conducting financial transactions through a bank account online.
In response, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S.J. Res. 34 on March 7, 2017. If enacted, this resolution would abolish the FCC’s rule. On March 23, 2017, S.J. Res. 34 passed the Senate on a vote of 50-48. It later passed the House of Representatives on March 28, 2017, with a 215-205 vote. S.J. Res. 34 has been delivered to President Trump for his signature or veto.
Again, thank you for contacting me. I encourage you to visit my website at www.donovan.house.gov to get the most current information on my work in Congress or to sign up to receive my newsletter. I hope that you will remain in touch on future issues of importance to you”.

How did your Congressmen vote? You can find out: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll202.xml