By Amit Narang, Public Citizen
Yesterday, Republicans in Congress used an obscure law, the Congressional Review Act, to gut an essential consumer privacy regulation that the Obama administration finalized in its last days.
Privacy has never been a partisan issue, so why would Republicans want to kill this rule? Because Big Telecom told them to do it and the GOP once again proved that they only listen to corporate special interests, not the interests of everyday Americans and consumers.
These rules are a no-brainer: they require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T to get a customer’s permission before using “sensitive” information for commercial purposes. “Sensitive” information like users’ children’s Social Security numbers, their medical and financial data, but also their web browsing history, content of email communications, and app usage histories. This is obviously precious personal information but for the ISPs it is also an income stream since they are able to sell this valuable information to companies seeking to market to you. Given the amount money up for grabs, it is no surprise why Big Telecom companies have been trying to fight this regulation since the day the Obama Administration proposed it and are currently pushing the GOP to kill the rule. As with so many of the fights on Capitol Hill, this one was about ramping up Big Telecom profits at the expense of consumer’s rights- -in this case, their personal privacy.
Privacy protections typically have not been a partisan issue and have been strongly supported by conservatives. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see virtually no conservative organizations come out to defend the privacy rule, particularly those that have been loud in the past in their opposition to government actions that impinge upon the public’s privacy. Like Republicans in Congress, they are taking Big Telecom’s side at their own peril. One quick look at the Breitbart website’s coverage of the GOP vote to kill the rule makes clear that the commenters are just as outraged as readers of this blog are likely to be and see this as the GOP selling them out to win favor (and campaign donations) from Big Telecom lobbyists.
The GOP effort to kill this rule has once again spotlighted how Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act to kill regulations that Big Business lobbyists hate but that are popular with the public because they are intended to benefit hardworking Americans and consumers. The Republicans have used this law to kill regulations that keep streams around coal mining sites free of toxic waste, ensure transparency when oil companies pay corrupt foreign leaders to extract fossil fuels in those countries, require federal contractors to disclose whether employees are paid less based on gender and whether those contractors have a strong record of keeping their workers safe on the job, preserve refuges for Alaskan wildlife so hunters cannot wipe out threatened animal species, and many more critical regulations that protect the public and our environment.
There is still a chance to save the privacy rule but it won’t be easy. In order for the law to pass, President Trump must sign it. Trump’s early actions have shown that he is radically and dangerously opposed to commonsense regulation and Public Citizen is taking Trump to court to stop these actions. But he has also stated that he will keep “regulations that make life better for American workers and consumers.” Of course, it’s hard to take him seriously given that he made that particular statement surrounded by dozens of Big Business CEOs and without a worker or consumer in sight. Still, the privacy rule clearly passes Trump’s own test and so President Trump can prove that he actually meant what he said by vetoing the bill
Public Citizen members can help remind Trump just how essential this regulation is for protecting consumers’ privacy on the internet by signing this petition which asks President Trump not to sign the law killing the privacy rule. I hope our members and supporters will take a moment to fight back against Big Telecom and show your support for this rule.