So-Called Privacy Bill Would Actually Innoculate ISPs Against Strong Privacy Protections

Members of Congress have been getting quite a beating from constituents angry over their recent decision to reverse FCC rules that required internet service providers, like Comcast, to get permission before selling your information.  In response, last week, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced privacy legislation that she claims will address these concerns.   Given Rep. Blackburn’s history and the text itself, however, we should approach this proposed legislation with skepticism.

The bill would require that internet service providers (like Comcast and Verizon) and edge providers (like Google and Facebook) get permission before selling users’ sensitive information.  That policy is a good one – the ACLU has long argued that internet service providers, as well as edge providers like Google and Facebook, should respect users’ privacy—and we support the concept of legislation that would ensure that both adhere to strong privacy standards.    

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

The provision appears to be a naked attempt to undercut state privacy efforts.  At least 17 states have now introduced legislation aimed at filling the gap created by the overturned FCC rules, and several others are considering introducing legislation.  In some cases, state legislation being considered is stronger than what would have been required under the FCC rules.  For example, in New Hampshire, a bipartisan bill would prohibit providers from offering discounts to individuals who waive their privacy rights – something the ACLU urged but the FCC declined to do in its rules.  Many states have also pressed for limits on not just the use but also the collection of information. 

Predictably, industry is already fighting these efforts, now raising concerns about a “patchwork” of regulation.  In other words, after first pushing for the elimination of federal standards, industry is now ironically arguing that states should not take action because there should be federal regulation. 

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

Skepticism of Rep. Blackburn’s motives is also warranted given her voting history.  Rep. Blackburn introduced the legislation to gut the FCC rules. If she had truly been interested in creating parity between the privacy standards applied to edge and internet providers, she could and should have worked to strengthen and replace the rules.  Instead, she irresponsibly pushed for reversal of the rules, leaving an enormous privacy gap.  Introduction of this legislation, which thus far shows no indication that it will become law and could easily be watered-down, does not remedy this reckless act.  Nor should introduction of the legislation insulate Rep. Blackburn from well-deserved criticism that she helped lead the charge to sacrifice her constituents’ privacy in favor of industry interests.  To redeem herself, Rep. Blackburn would have to ensure passage of strong federal privacy protections that are not watered down by industry interests and that that do not undermine state efforts.

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I would argue that because of previous contractual agreements based on the constitution that the federal government cannot pass legislation that would prohibit a state from enacting stronger protection of privacy.
See, there have been many rulings by the Supreme Court that the states and cities are bound by federal constitutional standards but that they have every right to expand upon those constitutional rights.
Seeing as this is a 4th Amendment issue no matter how many political and legal idiots claim it is not, common sense would consider the previous rulings to apply to this situation.
The legislation is flawed and a challenge that reached the Supreme Court would probably invalidate the legislation which would serve the telecommunications industry much as NO legislation would.
This needs to be removed during the reconciliation process all bills go through.
ISP's need to be worried about getting bits from point A to point B. Not spying on those bits to try and make a profit off them other than through the transfer.
You would not let an ISP look in your bedroom window would you? Likewise you probably do not want an ISP looking at your bits either...any of your bits...naughty or not!


That's great, but there is nothing stopping the Verizon or AT&T employee from providing a thumdrive download of data to the FBI, NSA or CIA agent that paid him/her to do so. The agencies will get any information they need one way or another. Central Offices (the term for telephone equipment buildings) are have been infiltrated since they were created. The Dallas and OKC central offices, both multi story buildings with 30 or more floors and packed with telephone/internet equipment are infiltrated. AT&T can do nothing, they barley control access and "contractors" do most of the work in these buildings. The CIA has created telecom contractor companies to gain free access to critical equipment in the name of information safety. They used to physically "but in" (look the term up) to phone calls placed by any person, citizen or not. Now they "but in" electronically to internet protocol communications.

Same spy shit, different people not following the law, and thinking they are doing good.


I try to use analogies to help people understand how they get taken advantage of not only when companies & LE take personal lives and store it, but tje sell it over and over,; eventually criminals get it. It is our property and we need laws giving people a cut of the revenue. I think we are blindly conducting social experiments blindly rushing to the singularity and it will not be pretty. These are strictly my own opinions as a concered citizen.


Bill should preempt state standards IF WEAKER protections are in state legislation.


As it were, after first pushing for the end of government norms, industry is presently amusingly contending that states ought not make a move on the grounds that there ought to be elected control. Well Click here:

Diablos Advocate

So anonymous #3 thinks "It is our property and we need laws giving people a cut of the revenue." (sigh) and NO reaction to that assertion .... which follows his/her observation that 'eventually criminals get it.' so - it's OK for criminals to get it, as long as you get 'a cut'??? That's just wrong, on so many levels. One of my frustrations about virtually every article that's written about bills (pending or enacted) is that they are not identified by bill number. I guess we need a law for that, which of course needs to include identification of which Congress. 17 states? How about IDENTIFYING them? And before anyone suggests going to a website and looking for the bill - my experience is that's an exercise in futility because there are usually multiple bills offered on same subject.

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