The US government is on the brink of overturning forthcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations covering internet privacy, in a move which would ease restrictions on the information service providers are allowed to gather about subscribers.

A decision to overturn the FCC regulations was cleared in a vote by the House of Representatives, the lower house of the US Congress. The motion had already been approved by the US Senate, the upper house, leaving only approval by President Trump as the final hurdle to reapealing the laws.

In a statement, the White House implied such presidential approval is highly likely to be forthcoming. If true, communications service providers would be freed from rules limiting their ability to use information collected on mobile and fixed broadband subscribers, including internet browsing habits, app usage and location data, which were due to come into force during 2017.

The rules would have required service providers to get explicit opt-in from subscribers before using customer information for services including marketing and third party advertising. The legislation also laid down guidelines on how companies can share other information including e-mail addresses and service information.

Companies including Facebook and Google were excluded from the forthcoming laws, which were unveiled in March 2016 by the previous FCC administration and passed into law in October 2016.

FCC privacy pledge
A White House statement said the current administration “strongly supports” the decision to overturn the rules, and added it viewed the FCC’s regulation as inconsistent with other privacy rules and would have applied “very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor.”

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai said: “Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies. Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect.

“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework. In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”