Internet Privacy Bill Would Override State Laws

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chairwoman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, introduced the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly (BROWSER) Act of 2017, which requires Internet service providers to get permission to sell users’ data.

Blackburn was one of the most prominent voices in the decision to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s Internet privacy regulations in March.

“The FCC unilaterally swiped jurisdiction from the FTC in a blatant power grab,” Blackburn said in a statement. “The FCC focused on only one part of the Internet ecosystem and ignored edge provider services that collect as much, if not more data, than ISPs. The government should not pick winners and losers when it comes to the privacy of Americans. This bill creates a level and fair privacy playing field by bringing all entities that collect and sell the personal data of individuals under the same rules.”

The bill would put Internet privacy back into the hands of the Federal Trade Commission.

“Internet privacy and security must be a top priority,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. R-Pa., who joined Blackburn on the bill. “Step one in that process was to override any regulation that creates more confusion by giving jurisdiction to multiple agencies, only to have them regulate only one-half of the digital world. Step two in that process is to introduce comprehensive Internet privacy legislation that will more fully protect online users in their use of Internet Service Providers, search engines and social media.”

Neema Singh Guliani, the American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, said that users “should approach this proposed legislation with skepticism.”

Guliani said that adding privacy protections, such as requiring Internet service providers and edge providers like Google and Facebook to get permission before selling user data, is beneficial.

“However, our skepticism comes from a provision buried at very end of the bill that would explicitly pre-empt state legislation on these issues–even if a state passes legislation requiring higher privacy standards than Congress,” Guliani said.

Seventeen states have introduced legislation in response to the overturned FCC rules in an effort to protect constituents’ privacy.

“Rep. Blackburn’s bill would do precisely what industry wants, which is prevent states from taking their own actions to ensure high privacy standards,” Guliani said. “If Rep. Blackburn’s goal is to raise privacy standards, she should remove the provision that pre-empts stronger state protections.”

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