Republican Online Privacy Bill Struggles to Find Support

Months after repealing the strongest online privacy protections the federal government has ever enforced and receiving significant public backlash, Republicans in Congress are working to pass their own online privacy bill, and struggling to find support among their base.

In May, Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn introduced the BROWSER Act — legislation that would mandate both internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and edge providers like Google to require users opt-in before collecting and monetizing personal data. Categories of such sensitive information would include a user’s web browsing history, a category previously left unregulated before the FCC passed privacy rules aimed exclusively at ISPs last year.

Blackburn, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, authored the repeal of those rules in the lower chamber. She and other Republicans alleged the FCC rules gave an unfair market advantage to edge providers like Google and Facebook, already the dominant forces in online targeted advertising that ISPs have been trying to get a greater foothold in, since the rules didn’t apply to them.

After voting to repeal the rules, waves of constituent criticism battered Republicans including Blackburn, whose top five donors include AT&T, Verizon, and the biggest cable trade group in Washington.

“The FCC focused on only one part of the internet eco-system and ignored edge provider services that collect as much, if not more data, than ISPs,” she said in May. “The government should not pick winners and losers when it comes to the privacy of Americans. This bill creates a level and fair privacy playing field by bringing all entities that collect and sell the personal data of individuals under the same rules.”

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