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Pallone Blasts GOP Efforts to Undermine Online Privacy

Mar 28, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) delivered the following remarks on the House Floor today during consideration of S.J. Res. 34., providing Congressional disapproval of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule relating to Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services:
Mr. Speaker, nearly every day now we hear about new ways our enemies are trying to steal Americans’ information.  Just a couple of weeks ago, two Russian hackers were indicted for stealing personal information from millions of us.
American consumers visit billions of internet destinations through a multitude of devices. Broadband providers potentially have access to every bit of data that flows from a consumer.
The American people are rightfully concerned about companies selling their personal information, including sensitive information, like their location, financial and health information, social security numbers and information about their children.   
So late last year, the FCC took steps to protect every American citizens’ data and privacy.  The rules were simple: first -- broadband providers had to ask their customers before selling any data; second -- the companies had to take reasonable measures to protect that data; and third -- the companies had to let people know if their data was stolen.
That was a good first step.  But Congress also has a role in protecting our data, and we should be working in a bipartisan fashion to   discuss ways we can better protect the American people’s data.
But instead, the Republicans have decided to spend this time wiping out the few privacy safeguards we do have.  The FCC’s cybersecurity rules are not burdensome—they simply tell the network providers to be “reasonable” in protecting the data.  That’s it.  The FCC left it to the companies themselves to use their best judgment on how to get the job done.  They just needed to be reasonable.
But it seems being reasonable is still too much for the Republicans, first in the Senate, and now here in the House.  So this resolution tells the companies charged with running the country’s broadband networks that they no longer have to be reasonable when it comes to their customers’ data.  And under this resolution, the FCC will be limited in how they can protect our data in the future.
Make no mistake, this resolution is a gift to countries like Russia who want to take our citizens’ personal information.  And if the House passes this resolution, it will go straight to the President’s desk—a President who will be more than happy to sign his name to this gift to the Russians.
This resolution also gives large corporations free rein to take customer data without anyone’s permission. This debate is about whether Americans have the freedom to decide on our privacy.  We’ll hear all kinds of complicated arguments about jurisdiction, implementation dates, and who knows what else.  But these arguments just muddy the water.
Republicans will say that the FCC’s rules are confusing to consumers.  People won’t know what to do if they are asked first before broadband companies sell their sensitive information.  But if that were the case, we would have heard from people who oppose the rules but we simply have not heard any of those concerns.
The facts speak for themselves—consumers want more privacy protection, not less.  Seventy-four percent of Americans say it’s very important that they be in control of their information, and 91 percent of people feel they have lost control over their own information.
There are real consequences to these feelings.  Nearly half of Americans say they limit their online activity because they are worried about their privacy and security.  That’s why they overwhelmingly support stronger protections.
So the FCC listened to the American people and adopted reasonable rules to protect our privacy.  Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the rules were not hard to follow.  The rules still allow broadband companies to offer services based on their customers’ data and they can still customize ads or send reminders.  The FCC’s rule simply required companies to ask people first before selling their sensitive information.  That’s it.  In fact, I had hoped the FCC would have gone even further, but the agency chose this more moderate approach.
Critics of the rules contend that these rules run counter to guidelines set by the Federal Trade Commission, but that’s simply not the case.  In fact, the FCC worked with the FTC in devising the rules, and the rules were endorsed by the FTC itself.  If the FTC is truly the authority on privacy-related matters, shouldn’t we follow their advice?
If these critics really cared about privacy, they have a place to have that discussion with less collateral damage.  The FCC still has an open proceeding to reconsider these rules, which allows anyone to offer opinions as part of an open and public debate.  Instead, the Republicans have decided to jam through yet another bill with no public input.  And the consequences could be serious.
As this debate proceeds, we should be asking one simply question: should the American people have the freedom to choose how their information is used or should the government give that freedom away?
I think the answer is clear—I stand with the American people, and therefore I strongly oppose this legislation.  I urge my colleagues to stand with me and reject this resolution.