Privacy and consumer advocates—and a seemingly endless chorus of Internet users—were expressing outrage on Thursday after the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate passed a bill that will allow powerful media corporations to collect personal data of internet users without their consent and sell that information to the "highest bidder" for profit.
As Common Dreams previously reported, the controversial Congressional Review Act (CRA), if passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, would repeal a rule put forth the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President Obama that forced companies to receive permission from online users before collecting or selling sensitive data, such as browsing history and search queries.
On Thursday afternoon, the Senate passed the resolution along strict party lines with a 50-48 vote. (With two senators, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) voting absent, the full roll call is here.) Widespread disgust was immediately focused on the 50 Republicans who voted 'yea':
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) March 23, 2017
Evan Greer, campaign director for the the advocacy group Fight for the Future, responded by saying that those 50 members who voted in favor "used a blatantly undemocratic Congressional procedure to gut basic protections that prevent Internet Service Providers [ISPs] like Comcast and Verizon from selling their customers personal information to marketers without their permission."
Online, internet users themselves were expressing their disgust with the Senate vote under the hashtag #BroadbandPrivacy.
While a major blow to consumers, the measure is seen as a clear gift to the nation's most powerful media and cable companies.
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"It is extremely disappointing that the Senate voted today to sacrifice the privacy rights of Americans in the interest of protecting the profits of major internet companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon," said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the ACLU, in a statement. "The resolution would undo privacy rules that ensure consumers control how their most sensitive information is used. The House must now stop this resolution from moving forward and stand up for our privacy rights."
As Kate Tummarello, with the digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained in an action alert following the vote, the major internet service providers (ISPs) have for weeks been deploying their massive lobbying power "to get lawmakers to repeal the FCC's rules that stand between them and using even creepier ways to track and profit off of your every move online."
Tummarello warned that ultimate passage of the bill would not only "roll back the FCC's rules" instituted under the Obama administration, it would also prevent the FCC from instituting similar consumer protections in the future.
As Greer noted, the Republicans who rammed the bill through—many of whom, she noted, have accepted large campaign contributions from the industry groups who lobbied for the legislation—"should be ashamed that they allowed partisan politics and corporate corruption to strip Internet users of our right to use the web safely and privately."
Because the bill stills needs to clear the House and gain the signature of President Trump, Greer said there remains plenty of time for opponents to block to its ultimate passage.
"The controversial measure passed by a narrow margin [in the Senate]," she said. "This is evidence that many members of Congress are still scared of angering the Internet. And they should be. Internet users are increasingly aware of how legislation and FCC rules impact our basic rights, and we are prepared to fight to defend them."
Greer concluded, "The Senators who voted today to sell out their constituents privacy will soon learn that the money they get from Cable companies can't buy back our trust."