The vote last week by House and Senate Republicans to repeal privacy regulations governing Internet service providers’ use of customer data has forced some states to consider new laws and has ISPs scrambling to clarify their privacy policies.

The House and Senate voted last week to repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission under former President Barack Obama requiring Internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy. When the FCC changed leadership during the start of the Trump administration, the agency began to cut back on Internet privacy rules, saying that broadband providers don’t need to be held to a higher standard than other online venues when it comes to consumer privacy.

An Illinois House committee Thursday endorsed a law that would allow people to find out what data companies such as Google and Facebook have collected on them and which third parties they share it with.

“People are looking to us now to provide protections for consumers,” said State Rep. Arthur Turner, who introduced the bill, during the committee hearing.

The state of California, where Google and Facebook are headquartered, enacted a similar measure in 2005.

The Illinois committee received support from more than 1,000 people and organizations for the bill; 32 commenters objected to the bill.

Illinois lawmakers proposed another bill that says a company can’t collect, use, store, or disclose a person’s location from an application on that person’s device unless the company receives the person’s consent. If companies violate this law, the person could receive up to $1,000 in damages.

“It is extremely disappointing that Congress is sacrificing 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 American Civil Liberties Union. “President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans. Trump should use his power to protect everyone’s right to privacy.”

Along with these proposed state laws, major Internet service providers including Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T said Friday that they would not sell customers’ sensitive browsing information, but they can sell customers’ nonsensitive information.

“There’s been a lot of attention and questions about consumer privacy in recent days,” Gerard Lewis, senior vice president, deputy general counsel, and chief privacy officer for public policy at Comcast, said in a statement. “We respect and protect our customers’ personal information. Always have, always will.  We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual Web browsing history.”

Lewis said that Comcast does not sell consumers’ sensitive information such as banking and health information without their opt-in consent. If Comcast customers don’t want the company to sell their nonsensitive information they can opt out of that process.

“Let’s set the record straight. Verizon does not sell the personal Web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line,” Karen Zacharia, chief privacy officer for Verizon, said in a statement. “We have two programs that use Web browsing data—and neither of these programs involves selling customers’ personal Web browsing history.”

Zacharia said that Verizon uses de-identified information about customers to put them into groups for advertisers to target. Verizon also uses “aggregate insights” that would be useful for advertisers.

Bob Quinn, senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs at AT&T, said that Congress should enact privacy rules consistent with the rules of the Federal Trade Commission, when the agency oversaw the Internet. The FTC’s rules applied the same privacy standards for all online companies, allowed customers to opt in to share sensitive data and opt out to stop sharing nonsensitive data.

“No one is saying there shouldn’t be any rules,” Quinn said in a statement. “Supporters of this action all agree that the rescinded FCC rules should be replaced by a return to the long-standing Federal Trade Commission approach. But in today’s overheated political dialogue, it is not surprising that some folks are ignoring the facts.”

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.