The Republican head of a House committee charged with overseeing internet policy is pitching a bill to make broadband providers and websites obtain user permission before collecting their personal data. The move comes less than two months after Republicans voted to repeal similar internet privacy rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn authored the bill that would require both internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and edge providers like Google to seek advance permission from users before collecting and monetizing personal data. Such information would include web browsing histories, a category previously left unregulated before the FCC passed privacy rules aimed exclusively at ISPs last year.
Blackburn, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, was one of the Republicans leading the call for the repeal of those rules earlier this year. She and other Republicans alleged they gave an unfair market advantage to edge providers like Google and Facebook, already the dominant forces in online targeted advertising that ISPs have been trying to get a greater foothold in.
After Republicans including Blackburn voted to repeal those rules via the Congressional Review Act, which bars the FCC from passing substantially similar rules in the future, lawmakers on the right were met with a wave of constituent criticism in person via town halls, as well as online. The latter included popular, albeit misguided, crowdfunding campaigns to purchase the browsing histories of representatives themselves.
Blackburn, whose top five donors include AT&T, Verizon, and the biggest cable trade group in Washington, was targeted specifically in campaigns by groups that supported the rules, including New America and constituents like a Tennessee mobile software engineer who raised more than $200,000 to buy her browsing history.
The congresswoman previously described the FCC’s move, which essentially claimed privacy jurisdiction from the Federal Trade Commission, as “troubling.”
“The FTC has been our government’s sole online privacy regulator for over twenty years,” she said after sponsoring the repeal on the House side.” A dual regulatory approach will only serve to create confusion within the internet eco-system and harm consumers.”
Now Blackburn says she wants those privacy rules to apply to both sides of the internet ecosystem.
“What we know is that when people talk about, ‘I don’t like pop ups that I get, and I don’t like this, and I don’t like that,’ that’s activity that comes from the edge providers, not the ISPs,” she said in a recent Axios interview.
In addition to applying the same rules to both sides of the market, Blackburn’s bill would designate the FTC as the agency charged with enforcing the rules.
It’s unclear how much legitimate Republican support there could be for the bill, but it faces an additional legal hiccup resulting from a case the FCC recently lost against AT&T. The ruling essentially bars the FTC from regulating any activity of ISPs, including privacy — an unexpected result of the FCC’s decision to reclassify ISPs as “common carriers,” a public utility designation the FTC is legally barred from regulating.