Republicans took the first step toward reversing the Federal Communication Commission’s internet privacy rules today, with 25 senators introducing legislation that would reverse the rules and forbid the commission from passing anything similar to them in the future.
The privacy rules were introduced last year as an addendum of sorts to the 2015 net neutrality order. That order required the FCC to take over enforcement of privacy protection from the Federal Trade Commission, but the FCC needed to pass clear rules in order to effectively do that.
The FCC’s rules mostly align with the FTC’s privacy framework, but they differ in two key ways: the FCC makes internet providers protect your web browsing history, and the FCC has much more leeway to actually enforce its rules.
Of course, neither of those distinctions are things that internet providers like. So they’ve been fighting to overturn them.
For the most part, Republicans just want to see the FCC scale back its rules to more closely match the FTC’s. At a minimum, that’ll mean letting internet providers share your web browsing history so that they can make more ad money.
It’s not clear how quickly Republicans intend to move on this, but, one way or another, these privacy rules are probably going down. Republicans can move forward with this legislation, which would require a majority vote in both houses and a signature from the president. Or they could wait around for the FCC to kill the rules on its own — commission chairman Ajit Pai has already indicated his plans to do that.
In Congress, Republicans are relying on the Congressional Review Act to reverse the rules. The act allows recently enacted rules to be reviewed and reversed by a new Congress, and it’s getting thrown around regularly as a way for Republicans to quickly undo many Obama administration actions from last year.
The big question, if the privacy rules are overturned by Congress, is what the FCC will do next. The law would prevent the FCC from passing any rules that are “substantially the same” as the ones overturned, but it’s not clear what’ll qualify as different enough to clear that bar, especially since the changes Republicans are pushing for aren’t very dramatic.
At the very least, Republicans have made it clear what they want the FCC to pass. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published earlier this month, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who authored the resolution introduced today, said he wanted to scrap the current privacy rules “in the hope that [the FCC] would follow the FTC’s successful sensitivity-based framework.”