Week ahead in tech: Internet privacy repeal awaits Trump signature

President Trump will sign a bill eliminating privacy rules that would have given consumers a greater say in what internet providers can do with their data, the White House said Thursday.

But the controversy over the measure shows no signs of dying down.

Republicans in the House and Senate narrowly advanced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that will undo regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October.

Those rules would have required internet service providers to get permission from customers before using their “sensitive” data — including browsing history, geolocation and financial and medical information — to create targeted advertisements.

Democrats say that repealing the rules will leave consumers vulnerable and that Republicans are selling out the public to advertisers and broadband companies. They have been pressuring Trump to veto the bill and have launched a petition to draw attention to the issue.

The Republican effort has sparked a new nationwide debate over internet privacy, with consumer groups banging the drum on the issue.

The telecom industry is on the defensive, but says repeal critics are misinformed and believe the fallout for consumers is overblown. Because the rules never went into effect, they argue, the state of internet privacy is not really changing.

Telecoms are hoping for a return to the era before when the FCC reclassified the industry in 2015, and took over authority for privacy rules on broadband providers from the Federal Trade Commission.

That reclassification came about under the net neutrality rules, which require service providers to treat all internet traffic equally.

The industry argued that the FCC privacy rules are unfair because they only apply to internet providers like AT&T and Comcast, but not to websites like Facebook and Google that also collect consumer data for targeted ads. Those web companies remain under the FTC’s authority.

But that defense is proving to be a hard sell to consumers worried about their online information, and Republicans are feeling the heat on the issue.

With the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act crashing and the Supreme Court nomination hearings ending last week, the privacy repeal was thrust into the public spotlight this week.

Late night host Stephen Colbert blasted Republicans on Thursday over the repeal.

And the issue isn’t going away.

Democrats are already targeting vulnerable Republicans with robocalls in their districts and Facebook ads attacking them for supporting the repeal bill.

“I think it’s going to become an election an issue,” said Gigi Sohn, an adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “This is something everybody can understand.”

Also coming up is the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) Tech Week. On Tuesday, the group will be holding its Digital Patriots Dinner at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, honoring Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas).

And on Wednesday, the CTA will be holding CES on the Hill, an annual technology exhibition show where members of Congress will be able to try out the latest gadgets and innovative projects.

Also on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s technology subcommittee will be holding a hearing on the wireless economy at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2123.