WASHINGTON — The House voted Tuesday to block online privacy regulations issued during the final months of the Obama administration, a first step toward allowing internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers.
The Federal Communications Commission rule was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information. But critics said the rule would have added costs, stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among internet companies.
The House voted 215-205 to reject the rule, and sent the legislation to President Donald Trump for his signature. The vote is part of an extensive effort that Republicans have undertaken to void an array of regulations issued during the final months of Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Republican-led effort was about putting profits over the privacy concerns of Americans.
“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. “Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families.”
Internet companies like Google don’t have to ask users’ permission before tracking what sites they visit. Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy, saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers.
But proponents of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells you your internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and whom they exchange emails with.
Undoing the FCC regulation leaves people’s online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information — but it doesn’t spell out how or what companies must do. That’s what the FCC rule aimed to do.
The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google. GOP lawmakers said they cared about consumer privacy every bit as much as Democrats did.
“What America needs is one standard across the internet ecosystem and the Federal Trade Commission is the best place for that standard,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Broadband providers don’t currently fall under FTC jurisdiction, and advocates say the FTC has historically been a weaker agency than the FCC.