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Congress just voted to strip away FCC rules that protected your internet privacy

A victory for the telecom industry.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Testifies To House Committee On The FCC's Net Neutrality Rule Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Congress took its final step today to scrap online privacy rules imposed by the FCC last year on the likes of AT&T, Comcast*, Charter and Verizon, delivering a victory for the nation’s telecommunications industry — and a blow to consumer-protection advocates.

In a 215-205 vote, largely along party lines, House Republicans prevailed in their push to cancel regulations that would have required internet providers to seek a customer’s permission before collecting their sensitive private data, such as web-browsing history, and sharing it with third parties like advertisers.

Just a few days earlier, the Senate formally voiced its opposition to the FCC’s order, again with Republicans leading the charge. With both chambers’ vote, the matter now rests in the hands of President Donald Trump, whose staff (as expected) formally recommended today that he sign the resolution.

The rollback amounts to a major defeat for privacy-rights organizations like the ACLU and their Democratic allies in Congress. "You shouldn't have to give up every shred of privacy when you go online," tweeted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a last-minute attempt to convince her colleagues to defend the FCC’s privacy push.

Taking the House floor later in the day, Pelosi even went as far as to accuse Republicans of trying to “sell the dignity of the American people.”

Despite the heated rhetoric, it’s nonetheless a major lobbying coup for the nation’s telecommunications industry, which has strongly opposed the FCC’s rules as unfair and burdensome — not the least because of the fact that tech companies, like Facebook or Google, wouldn’t have been subject to the restrictions.

Taking an early victory lap on a call with reporters Tuesday morning, the top lobbyists for telecom companies even took a shot at their opponents for using scare tactics to whip up a “parade of horribles,” in the words of James Assey, the executive vice president of NCTA, the Internet & Television Association. Assey said his industry always has been “respectful” when it comes to consumer privacy.

This is also something of a quiet win for Silicon Valley. Even though it wasn’t targeted by the FCC, the tech industry still deployed its own lobbying organizations, like the Consumer Technology Association, to argue that the government risked setting a “dangerous precedent” with its rules, fearing it would lead to greater regulation of tech giants.

The Obama-era privacy rules, authored by then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, sought to address telecom companies’ growing appetites to collect more consumer data and transform that information into targeted advertising. In some ways, the desire is at the heart of recent industry moves like Verizon’s pursuit of Yahoo (despite the web company’s troubles). The rules also required telecom giants to take steps to safeguard their stores of data from hackers.

But the thrust of the order never actually entered into effect.

New Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted against the privacy protections while serving as a commissioner under Obama, sought to block the cyber security portion of the rules from being implemented this month. And the most crucial portion of the order — requiring customer consent before companies could share private browsing data — wouldn’t have applied until the end of December anyway.

If you want, you can watch the hour-long House debate below:

* Comcast, via its NBCU unit, is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

This article originally appeared on

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