On March 28 the Washington Post reported: “The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections.” In describing this legislation, the Post wrote: “House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.”
Many Republicans characterize the issue quite differently. On March 7 U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, introduced S.J.Res. 34. According to Senator Flake, the bill would repeal economically harmful midnight broadband regulations issued by the Obama administration. On March 23 the Senate approved Flake’s resolution by a vote of 50-48.
In a press statement following passage, Flake said, “The FCC’s midnight regulation has the potential to limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem . . . [My resolution] does not change or lessen existing consumer privacy regulations. It is designed to block an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand its regulatory jurisdiction and impose prescriptive data restrictions on internet service providers. These restrictions have the potential to negatively impact consumers and the future of internet innovation.”
One Congressman who voted for S.J. Res. 34, Thomas Massie (R-KY) said in a statement:
“The Constitution protects an individual’s privacy from the government. It does not authorize the federal government to restrict contracts between individuals who agree to share information (whether by implicit or explicit consent). Even so, some would like the federal government to be involved in private internet service contracts to protect one party from the other.
It is my observation that the free market is currently responding to consumer demand for privacy without FCC intervention. The Obama Administration’s rule that is before Congress today did not exist until five months ago, yet abuse of customer data was not prevalent before the rule . . .”
The Washington Post reported that the vote was strictly along party lines, but there were actually fifteen Republicans who voted no. One of them was Justin Amash. Congressman Amash is known for offering detailed explanations of every vote he makes. On this one he tweeted:
More wrinkles to this issue/vote than most people on either side acknowledge. Bottom line: This legislation makes the law more convoluted. https://t.co/hY9FKtKjiE
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 29, 2017
The response to the proposal on social media was quick and brutal. Max Temkin, the creator of the hit game “Cards Against Humanity” tweeted:
One original sponsor of the resolution was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, but he ended up abstaining from the vote. It is possible that Rand and Senator Isakson (R- GA) abstained from preventing the bill from going to a tie, but calls to the senator’s office seeking confirmation were not returned as of this writing.
Congressman Massie received $2700 in contributions from Comcast., much less than many other Republicans who voted for the resolution. Neither Senator Paul nor Congressman Amash received any contributions.