Most of Kansas congressional delegation supported repealing internet privacy rules

Both U.S. senators from Kansas and two of its three House members voted over the past week in favor of repealing the Federal Communications Commission’s new internet privacy rules.

Those regulations, adopted near the end of President Barack Obama’s administration, would have required internet service providers, or ISPs, to get their customers’ permission before they could collect private data such as browsing history and sell it to advertisers.

The telecommunications industry strongly opposed the rules, in part because they applied only to ISPs and not to particular websites such as Facebook and Google that also collect users’ browsing history to deliver targeted advertising. They also argued that the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, has traditionally been in charge of internet privacy rules.
The Senate voted 50-48 on March 23 to disapprove those rules, which had not yet taken effect. Both Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted for the measure. The House followed up on Tuesday of this week, voting 231-189 to send the measure to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins of the 2nd District, which includes Lawrence, voted in favor of the resolution, as did 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall. Third District Rep. Kevin Yoder was the only member of the Kansas congressional delegation to vote no.

The 4th District seat in south-central Kansas is currently vacant due to Mike Pompeo’s appointment as CIA director. A special election to fill that seat will be held April 11.
Yoder was also the only member of Congress from Kansas to post a public statement explaining his vote.

“In the 21st century, Americans deeply value their privacy when it comes to digital content,” he said in a statement posted on his congressional website. “We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business.”

When contacted by the Journal-World, Sen. Roberts’ office could not provide a direct statement from him regarding his vote. Roberts was said to be getting ready for an event Saturday at Kansas State University in Manhattan. But his spokeswoman said in an email message that the issue dates back to 2015, when the FCC issued an order taking jurisdiction over internet privacy regulation away from the FTC.

“Senator Roberts wishes that the FCC, under pressure from the Obama White House, hadn’t voted in 2015 to approve an order that removed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from its traditional role as privacy cop when it comes to Internet Service Providers,” his communications director Sarah Little said. “His vote last week for the resolution did not change current privacy protections of Americans’ online data. It prevented the implementation of rules that had not yet gone into effect and that the FCC itself had stayed earlier this month. Roberts was encouraged by the recent announcement from FCC Chairman and Kansan Ajit Pai and Acting Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Maureen K. Ohlhausen that they will work in concert to craft better rules that protect the privacy of consumers no matter what type of device they use or regardless of what sites they frequent.”
Moran’s office issued an email statement late Friday, in response to a request, that questioned the Obama administration’s last-minute regulation.

“In the final days of his presidency, the Obama administration pushed through new privacy rules that would only apply to part of the internet, leading to consumer confusion and frustration,” Moran said in the statement. “By preventing the implementation of these midnight regulations, the FCC and the FTC now have an opportunity to work together on a unified approach that strengthens privacy protections across the board.”

In response to a question from the Journal-World, Jenkins’ office issued an email statement saying she believed the FTC should remain in charge of internet privacy regulation.
“While I agree with the goal, the best way to protect one’s privacy is by having one all-encompassing framework – not a system split between two agencies through a midnight regulation by a former administration,” the statement read. “That’s why I believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security should remain with the Federal Trade Commission, which has had jurisdiction over these issues since the inception of the internet and is the nation’s leading expert on these important issues.”

Jenkins went on to say that Pai, a Parsons, Kan., native and FCC commissioner who was elevated to chairman by President Trump, did not intend to implement the rules due to similar concerns.

Pai issued a statement following the House vote suggesting the rules were motivated by partisan politics in the first place.

“Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies,” he said. “Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect.”

Marshall’s office also issued an email statement saying the measure only ends what he described as a “turf war between two government bureaucracies.”

“Let me be clear: the passage of this (Congressional Review Act resolution) changed nothing, other than to prevent a rule which hadn’t yet gone into effect from targeting a single group of internet companies,” Marshall said in the statement. “The FTC will continue to regulate internet privacy, including internet service providers. This was about keeping a level playing field between internet service providers and online entities.”