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S.J.Res. 34: A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other

Mar 23, 2017 at 12:25 p.m. ET. On the Joint Resolution in the Senate.

This was a vote to agree to S.J.Res. 34 (115th) in the Senate.

A Republican bill would block a regulation of President Obama’s that they see as executive overreach, but privacy advocates claim it could allow companies to sell your private Internet and search history. Who’s right?

The context and what the bill does

The Federal Trade Commission maintains jurisdiction over most aspects of the Internet. But after the 2016 election during the lame-duck session, another Washington agency called the Federal Communications Commission issued new regulations related specifically to Internet service providers, also known as ISPs. (You’ve probably heard of some of the country’s biggest ISPs, which include Comcast, Verizon, AT&T;, Time Warner, Cox, and CenturyLink.)

These new rules required all Internet browsing data, as well as data regarding app usage on mobile devices, be subject to the same privacy requirements as sensitive or private personal information. This overtook the previous rule by the FTC, the agency which previously had authority over regulating ISP’s and differentiated privacy requirements based upon the sensitivity of the information, with more stringent rules for such things as health information or Social Security numbers. The methods are also more invasive to the ISP companies, since the FCC also issues pre-emptive regulations while the FTC primarily conducted investigations.

Introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law — and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN7), Senate Joint Resolution 34 and House Joint Resolution 86 are companion bills that would nullify the FCC’s rule. However, they would not return jurisdiction over regulating ISP’s back to the FTC, as they were previously.

What supporters say

Many Republicans saw these new rules as a power grab during the closing days of the Obama Administration. The rule was issued on December 2, 2016 and took effect on January 3, 2017, less than three weeks before President Trump took office. Supporters of the bill argue that the legislation would prevent the one-size-fits-all regulation.

“Under the FTC’s watch, our internet and data economy has been the envy of the world. The agency’s evidence-based approach calibrates privacy and data-security requirements to the sensitivity of information collected,” Senate lead sponsor Flake wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“The FCC rules subject all web browsing and app usage data to the same restrictive requirements as sensitive personal information. That means that information generated from looking up the latest Cardinals score or checking the weather in Scottsdale is treated the same as personal health and financial data.”

ISP companies also contended that the FCC rules have placed them at a disadvantage with other non-ISP Internet companies that also collect user data, like Netflix or Facebook.

What opponents say

Privacy advocates warn that the legislation could produce dire consequences for consumer privacy, with Privacy News Online calling it “a bill to let telecoms sell your private Internet history.”

“Its goal is to remove all the hard-earned net neutrality regulations gained to protect your internet history from advertisers and and worse,” they wrote. “Specifically, the FCC had been able to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from spying on your internet history, and selling what they gathered, without express permission. This legal protection on your internet history is currently under attack thanks to these 24 Senators and lots of ISP lobbying spend.”

That’s not false, as ISPs have been previously shown to sell user data to third parties, who in turn use it for marketing or other purposes.

Odds of passage

The odds of passage are decent — if Trump’s new FCC Commission Ajit Pai doesn’t overturn the rule on his own first. Pai already placed a partial halt to some of the ISP rules in February.

The Senate legislation has attracted 23 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a vote in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The House legislation has attracted 16 cosponsors, also all Republicans. It awaits a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Blackburn is the third-most conservative House member, based on a GovTrack analysis.

Totals

All Votes R D I
Yea 51%
 
 
 
50
50
 
0
 
0
 
Nay 49%
 
 
 
48
0
 
46
 
2
 
Not Voting
 
 
 
2
2
 
0
 
0
 

Joint Resolution Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source: senate.gov.

The Yea votes represented 45% of the country’s population by apportioning each state’s population to its voting senators.

Ideology Vote Chart

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Republican - Yea Democrat - Nay
Seat position based on our ideology score.

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Study Guide

How well do you understand this vote? Use this study guide to find out.

You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the resolution this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
  2. Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

    This vote is related to a resolution. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the resolution, whether to change the resolution before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at EveryCRSReport.com. If you aren’t sure what the Senate was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this resolution is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the resolution. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the resolution itself.

What is your analysis of this vote?

  1. What trends do you see in this vote?
  2. Members of Congress side together for many reasons beside being in the same political party, especially so for less prominent legislation or legislation specific to a certain region. What might have determined how the roll call came out in this case? Does it look like Members of Congress voted based on party, geography, or some other reason?

  3. How did your senators vote?
  4. There are two votes here that should be more important to you than all the others. These are the votes cast by your senators, which are meant to represent you and your community. Do you agree with how your senators voted? Why do you think they voted the way they did?

    If you don’t already know who your Members of Congress are you can find them by entering your address here.

  5. How much of the United States population is represented by the yeas?
  6. GovTrack displays the percentage of the United States population represented by the yeas on some Senate votes just under the vote totals. We do this to highlight how the people of the United States are represented in the Senate. Since each state has two senators, but state populations vary significantly, the individuals living in each state have different Senate representation. For example, California’s population of near 40 million is given the same number of senators as Wyoming’s population of about 600,000.

    Do the senators who voted yea represent a majority of the people of the United States? Does it matter?

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