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Republicans may reverse internet privacy rules

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Republicans may try to reverse a landmark privacy rule that requires internet providers to get permission before sharing your web browsing data and other sensitive information with outside companies.

Politico reports that Senate Republicans are planning to introduce legislation that would reverse the rules, which began going into effect at the beginning of the year.

It would be easy enough for them to do, too. The Congressional Review Act allows a new Congress to reverse rules recently passed by federal agencies — in this case, the rule comes from the FCC. The New York Times has a good explainer on the intricacies of how the law works, but the gist is that Republicans only need a simple majority vote in both chambers, and a signature from the president, to reverse a recent rule.

There is a time constraint, though: Congress has to reverse the rule within about 60 legislative days (in real-world time, several months). Senator Flake (R-AZ) tells Politico the legislation is “coming up” but that specific timing hasn’t been nailed down.

A reversal through the Congressional Review Act also prevents an agency from reissuing a “substantially” similar rule in the future, barring any change in law.

Internet providers have been pretty unhappy about the privacy rules, since they limit the companies’ ability to make additional money off of their already-paying subscribers. The data is particularly valuable for ad targeting, since it includes information like what websites a person visits, what apps they use, and where they live.

This information can still be shared, but only anonymously or with explicit permission from a subscriber. The privacy rules also require internet providers to do a better job of securing customers’ sensitive data.

Organizations representing Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, and just about every internet provider you can think of have filed requests asking the FCC to halt and reconsider its privacy rules. The companies argue that their voluntary privacy policies should be enough.

Even without Congress’ intervention, the FCC could also try to roll back the rules. But the commission might not be able to fully reverse the rules as easily, so any changes it made would likely still leave some core protections in place. If Congress doesn’t get around to it, we’ll likely see how that plays out — one way or another, these privacy rules aren’t staying whole for long.