Republican senators voted on March 23 to remove some of the landmark consumer internet privacy rules put in place by the Obama administration.
The GOP measure was approved in the Republican-controlled Senate 50-48, and now goes to the House and President Donald Trump, notes The New York Times.
The measure would allow internet service providers, such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, to watch customers' internet browsing and app activity without permission. If the measure becomes law, telecommunications companies could sell information on people's private internet habits to the highest bidders, including marketers or other buyers.
Dallas Harris, a policy fellow for the consumer group Public Knowledge, told The New York Times: "These were the strongest online privacy rules to date, and this vote is a huge step backwards in consumer protection [at] large. The rules asked that when things were sensitive, an internet service provider asked permission first before collecting. That’s not a lot to ask.”
In October 2016, the Federal Communications Commission created the privacy rules, which have been opposed by Republicans and large corporations.
According to Republicans, the privacy laws that protect consumers' information are unfair to giant telecommunications corporations and cable companies because social media websites, such as Facebook and Google, have access to people's online habits if people choose to use those websites.
Republican Sen Jeff Flake of Arizona said the current privacy protection rules are "unnecessary, confusing and adds another innovation-stifling regulation."
Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts countered: "Senate Republicans just made it easier for Americans’ sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared and sold to the highest bidder without their permission."
The FCC's rules also required internet providers to use "reasonable measures" to keep the private information of consumers safe from hackers, but that would also be gone if the GOP measure becomes law.
Comcast and other broadband companies banded together to fight the Obama privacy rules by forming 21st Century Privacy Coalition, a trade lobbying organization that is headed by Jon Leibowitz, a former Federal Trade Commission chairman.
The Internet & Television Association, another trade group, celebrated this first step in the end of the privacy rules for consumers: "We appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted FCC rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality."
Corporate internet providers are also hoping Republicans remove net neutrality rules.
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers treat all websites and apps the same, and that customers have equal access to all apps and web content, reports USA Today.
Net neutrality stops internet service providers from blocking customers from visiting certain sites that internet service providers don't like.
Net neutrality also bans internet service providers from charging websites or app creators for faster delivery, or deliberately slowing down content the internet service providers oppose.