The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG) sent a report to Congress today that found lax management of the National Highway Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) vehicle safety recall process.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
The president today signed a bipartisan bill aimed at curbing online sex trafficking by cracking down on websites that knowingly host ads posted by sex traffickers.
The legislation, cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), increases penalties for traffickers and gives law enforcement new tools to prosecute the websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking online.
“This should serve as a wake-up call for anyone operating one of these websites,” Nelson said after today’s bill signing. “We’re coming for you.”
The bill signing comes just days after federal authorities shut down a website known as Backpage.com and charged its executives with facilitating prostitution.
According to the human trafficking hotline, Florida ranked third in the country for the highest number of sex trafficking cases reported in 2016 and 2017.
A bill that would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to crackdown on websites that promote sex trafficking overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), now heads to the president for his signature. Prior to today’s vote, Nelson took to the Senate floor and asked for his colleagues’ support.
“An untold number of women and children in the U.S. are being sold into sexual slavery via the internet,” Nelson said. “It’s just unacceptable and it’s wrong. … We can’t sit by idly any longer.”
The legislation creates new accountability for websites hosting ads posted by sex traffickers, allows state attorneys general to prosecute websites that knowingly facilitate trafficking and enhances criminal penalties for traffickers.
According to the human trafficking hotline, Florida ranked third in the country for the highest number of sex trafficking cases reported in 2016 and 2017.
Following is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks before the vote:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
March 21, 2018
Sen. Nelson: I thank the senator from Ohio for his gracious comments. And I just simply want to say my part as to why this is so important that we pass this legislation, because it’s very obvious that an untold number of women and children in the U.S. are being sold into sexual slavery via the internet.
And we now have an opportunity to do something about it by passing this legislation. And it’s so bad because with just a few clicks or a few punches on an iPhone, victims from all walks of life and parts of the country, all across, are being forced into brutal slavery and unspeakable crimes.
I want to repeat that. I want Americans to understand what is going on behind the scenes, that women and children are being forced into sex slavery in modern-day America, and could very well happen to someone that you know.
You know, we have continuing stories of our history of how slavery brought to the new world had happened. First to Arabia off the east coast of Africa, and then of course the European nations later in going down with ship captains, the Portuguese actually ended up having the most of slaves transported to the new world, primarily to South America.
But of course the English got into the act. Most of the European nations got into the act of these unspeakable crimes of slave ships going down to the west coast of Africa either enslaving themselves, Africans, or getting into agreement with a particular tribe that would then go out and capture members of an opposing tribe.
And of course, you’ve heard over and over the stories, untold stories of the inhumanity of stacking people body to body in the hulls of these slave ships. And it finally took a civil war to settle the issue. That was slavery. That was slavery that we opposed and now all of our laws try to protect against.
But here in modern-day America the same thing is happening, and it’s happening because of the advent, the advances of technology now using the internet. And if this is not a wake-up call, I simply don’t know what is.
According to human trafficking to the hotline, just my state of Florida has consistently ranked in the top five states in human trafficking cases. Florida was third in the country for the number of cases reported in 2016 and 2017, and that’s just what we know about.
And so, it’s just unacceptable and it’s wrong. Tens of thousands of Americans, predominantly women children, are subjected to this horrific reality. And you can imagine the pain and the suffering which they are subjected to. And nowhere in the country should have to endure this kind of forced slavery. No child or woman in Florida, in America should ever be trafficked for sex.
And to even contemplate that should offend any person’s sense of decency and humanity. And so the question before the Senate today, thanks with the leadership of a number of our colleagues, the question before the Senate today is, why aren’t we going to do everything that we can to stop this heinous practice?
And so, the bill that we are considering on the Senate floor would help us shut down despicable websites that enable this sex trafficking. Don’t kid yourself. These shady and highly profitable website operators know full well how their sites are being used. And what’s more, they’re hiding behind a decades’ old legal shield to immunize themselves from prosecution. And we’ve got to change that legal shield that was set up a decade ago for a different purpose.
And so, the bill by Senators Portman, Blumenthal, McCain, Heitkamp, and myself — and now many others — would eliminate the safe harbor in law for sex traffickers, and it would allow state attorneys general, other state and local prosecutors, and the victims themselves to go after the websites that knowingly provide a platform for sex trafficking. It would also make key changes to federal criminal law to enable law enforcement to better target the websites.
So, it’s simple. That’s the purpose of the legislation. Let’s get it passed out of here, get it signed into law, and let all of these various law enforcement entities be able to do their job. This legislation is an extensive product by our congressional colleagues on a bipartisan basis. It proves once again that what we ought to be doing around here on almost everything and yet we rarely do — it proves once again, if you cross partisan lines and put things together in a bipartisan way, that then you can tackle the important lifesaving issues such as this one. And we can get something done.
Let’s show today that we can get something done. Something that really makes a difference to Americans. And so, it’s a privilege for me to be involved in a bipartisan way with this legislation and to have worked with our commerce committee to get a unanimous vote out of the committee.
I hope that this legislation is going to serve as a wake-up call to the morally bankrupt website operators. We’re coming after you. And it seems like every day we hear of new ways that these bad actors are exploiting internet content and data to undermine society. Obviously, the internet has been magnificent for so many of us. But now when technology advances, you have to be on your guard about how new technology is used for the bad operators.
This bill is going to address that. We can’t sit by idly any longer. We’ve got to act today.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
Less than two weeks after the federal government increased interest rates on federal student loans, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to cut student loan rates across the board and allow borrowers with existing student loans to refinance to new lower rates.
On July 1, federal student loan interest rates for undergraduate students increased from 3.76 percent to 4.45 percent. If approved, Nelson’s bill would cap rates for undergraduates at 4 percent, and allow borrowers with existing student loans that have a rate higher than 4 percent to refinance their loans to the new lower rate – a move that’s currently barred under existing law.
“If we really want to build a strong middle class, we have to make higher education more affordable,” Nelson said on the Senate floor today. “Capping interest rates, ending loan origination fees and allowing borrowers to refinance existing student loans would certainly help make education more affordable for our students and it would help ease the financial stress that’s weighing down our economy.”
More than 43 million Americans currently have outstanding student loan debt. In Florida alone, students graduating with a four-year degree leave college with more than $24,000 in student loan debt on average.
In addition to capping student loan rates, Nelson’s bill would also eliminate the “loan origination fees” charged to students to process their loans. These fees are often taken out of a student’s original loan amount before they receive it. Nelson’s bill would eliminate the fee altogether.
Once they are set each year, student loan interest rates are fixed for the lifetime of the loan and cannot be refinanced, even if rates go lower. Borrowers who took out loans between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2013, likely have a fixed rate of 6.8 percent. And despite a significant drop in interest rates since 2013, current law bars those borrowers from refinancing their existing loans. Nelson’s bill would change that by allowing any borrower with an existing federal student loan to refinance their loans one time to a new lower rate.
In addition to capping undergraduate rates at 4 percent, Nelson’s legislation would cap rates for graduate students at 5 percent and the rates for parents of undergraduates at 6 percent.
Nelson says capping interest rates, ending loan origination fees and allowing borrowers to refinance existing loans would help to make education more affordable for Florida students.
A copy of Nelson’s legislation is available here.
Following is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon, and here’s a link to watch video of his speech.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
July 10, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to talk about a heavy financial burden that too many of our fellow Americans are being forced to deal with and what I’m talking about is student loans.
And you may be surprised to know that the second most amount of debt in America next to mortgage debt — home mortgage debt, the second largest to mortgage debt is student loan debt. $1.3 trillion more than all the credit card debt combined in America, student loan debt is higher than that — $1.3 trillion.
So graduates recently from the class of 2016 have more than $37,000 in student loan debt, on average, when they graduate. To make matters worse, the federal government last week announced that it was increasing interest rates on federal student loans for this coming school year, which starts in September, for undergraduate students rates are increased from last year 3.76 to 4.45%, almost three-quarters of a percent. And that starts – started – on July the 1st.
Well, our economy is built on ingenuity and creativity of young entrepreneurs who took a risk on something new, but today instead of sending our graduates off to be creative and conquer the world, we’re sending them with a tremendous amount of debt that they are struggling to afford.
While I was in Florida last week over the July 4th recess, I met with a group of recent graduates and we wanted to discuss their student loans and they were not shy about telling me about it. Many of them had high interest rates. They wondered how were they going to pay off that debt, how they were going to be able to be unshackled from that financial burden so they could get on about the business of building their career and starting a family.
Let me give you some examples of the students I met with. One young lady graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with $50,000 in student loan debt. The interest rate on her debt was 4.85%. She knows that her parents, who have helped her before — they are small business owners — they are not going to be able to continue to help her out financially, but she, even so, was the first person in her family to graduate from college. That student is currently attending George Washington University for grad school, after which she is estimated her total debt will be $90,000 in student loans. She told me about what every student longs to do, to purchase a home, start a family, get on with their career, but that’s increasingly becoming a pipe dream for millennials because of the burden of student loan debt.
Another student I met from Deltona, Florida, she works as a social worker for the homeless. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in the same from Florida State. She’s dedicated her life to public service and helping the most vulnerable among us. Yet, she is facing $75,000 in student loan debt while carrying interest rates that range from 5.4% to 6.8%.
In Florida alone, students graduating with a four-year degree are leaving an average of more than $23,000 in student loan debt. The thought of trying to start a career with that much debt is discouraging when some students, even after attending college in the first place, they are still struggling, they want to go on to grad school, or they are still in school wanting to finish their degree, but then they have that constant fear of having more and more debt when they graduate.
That’s not in anybody’s interest — not the students, not the families, not the communities and it’s certainly not in the country’s best interest.
If we really want to build a strong middle class, we have to make higher education more affordable and that’s why today I am filing legislation to lower the cap on student loan interest in the so-called lender origination fees and allow those with existing loans to refinance at a lower rate, namely 4%.
Remember, I told you about that one student I met that had loans that went anywhere from 5.5% to 6.8%? That was because that was the interest rate in that particular year of their education.
I think they ought to be able to refinance all of that at a max of 4% and so the bill that I am filing today, which we’re calling the Student Loan Relief Act, would cap student loan interest rates for undergraduates at 4%, graduates at 5%, and parents, a cap of 6%.
It would also help students borrow less by ending the loan origination fees that the government charges students — that the government charges students — to process their loan. So, for example, if it’s a $10,000 loan, they’ll take out a loan origination fee of $400 so the actual loan that the student gets is $9,600. These fees are taken out before the student receives the loan. The bill that we’re filing would eliminate those fees all together.
And one other thing that the bill would allow: any borrower with an existing federal student loan to refinance their loans one time to a lower rate.
Once the federal government sets the student loan interest rates for the year, they are fixed now, under current law, for the lifetime of that loan and they can’t be refinanced even if the rates go lower. That doesn’t — that’s certainly not in the interest of the student. So, for example, borrowers who took out loans between July of 2006 and July of 2013 likely they have a fixed rate of 6.8%. And despite the significant drop in interest rates since 2013, current law bars those borrowers from refinancing their existing loans. That’s not common sense.
Between ‘06 and ‘13, the interest rate on student loan debt got as high as 6.8%. Students that took out loans during that time are now stuck with those rates. They can’t refinance that debt like you could with a home loan. This bill would fix that by letting those borrowers refinance their debt with the new loans that have the lower interest rates.
Capping interest rates, ending loan origination fees and allowing borrowers to refinance existing loans would certainly help make education more affordable for our students and it would help to ease the financial stress that’s weighing down our economy and keeping some graduates from making the types of investments that traditionally lead to stronger middle-class membership like, for example, homeownership.
Sometimes in all of the partisan back-and-forth, some folks begin to forget why we’re here to serve the people. And so I urge our colleagues to take a serious look at this bill and join with me in helping those we represent. We can’t continue to leave our graduates saddled with so much student debt and no way out. We have to do something to ease the burden and I believe that this is a good way to start
And so I would just conclude by recalling what I said at the outset. You may be surprised to learn that student loan debt is the second largest debt carried in America next to home mortgage debt. You can take all the credit card debt in America and combine it all and it’s not as much as the $1.3 trillion of student loan debt that is carried today.
We need to help those students and, thereby, we are helping our country.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Washington Post story claiming President Trump revealed classified information:
“If the story is true, this is a serious breach of security and will have lasting and dangerous consequences for the U.S.”
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the U.S. air strike in Syria:
“I support the administration’s strike on the air base that launched the chemical attack. I hope this teaches President Assad not to use chemical weapons again.”
In preparation for the warmer summer months ahead, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to bolster local mosquito-control efforts to curb the spread of the Zika virus.
The legislation Nelson filed today along with Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) would authorize an additional $130 million per year in grant funding to local mosquito-control efforts to eliminate the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. It would also authorize additional funding for public health laboratories so they can better test for the virus, and would require the Government Accountability Office to find ways to improve existing mosquito-control programs.
“One of the best ways to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson said. “As summer approaches, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.”
With more than 1,300 cases of the virus reported last year, no state has been harder hit by Zika than Florida. In fact, the Florida Department of Health reported four new cases of the virus last month, bringing the state’s total for this year to 31.
Nelson, King and Burr introduced similar legislation last year, which was endorsed by the National Pest Management Association, the American Mosquito Control Association, the Entomological Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The legislation filed today now heads to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee for consideration.
The text of the bill is available here.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is leading a bipartisan group of Florida delegation members in urging the new administration to keep offshore drilling rigs out of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and away from Florida’s coast.
In a letter today to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Nelson and others urged the administration to maintain the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next five years.
Earlier this month, the administration announced that they were implementing the same five-year oil and gas leasing plan as the previous administration, which would keep the moratorium in place until at least 2022. But recent reports now indicate that the administration may be considering a new plan which could open up more areas to offshore oil drilling.
“It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.”
Joining Nelson on the letter are Reps. Vern Buchanan, Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Daniel Webster and Frederica Wilson.
Below is the full text of the lawmakers’ letter to Zinke:
March 24, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke,
As members of the Florida congressional delegation, we are writing to make clear our strong opposition to offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.
Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there.
In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act (P.L. 109-432), which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico – including all areas east of the Military Mission Line.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of eleven men and ruined an entire tourism season for the Gulf states. And we still don’t know the full extent of the damage done to marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles.
This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores.
In addition to its economic value, the eastern Gulf of Mexico provides a critical testing and training range for our nation’s military – the largest such training area in the United States. For example, pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, use the open space to train with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
In 2015, the Department of Defense reiterated its opposition to offshore drilling activities in this vital training area. As a former Navy SEAL, you understand the importance of ensuring that the men and women of our armed forces have access to the best training opportunities available.
We expect that as our nation’s newest Interior Secretary you will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law that currently bans drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and we strongly urge you to heed the recommendations of the Department of Defense and coastal communities by keeping offshore drilling rigs out of the area.
The U.S. Senate voted today to allow internet service providers to sell consumers’ personal information without their consent.
By a vote of 50 – 48, the Senate today approved a measure that would repeal a rule recently put in place by the Federal Communications Commission requiring internet service providers to seek customers’ consent before selling or sharing their personal information to third parties, such as advertisers.
If approved in the House, internet providers could soon be allowed to sell their customers’ most sensitive information – including their browsing history, precise geographic location, details about their health and finances and more – to advertisers, without customers’ consent.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), one of the Senate’s most outspoken advocates for consumer privacy, led the charge to block the measure. In a floor speech yesterday, Nelson warned his colleagues that weakening privacy protections would harm consumers.
“We are talking about taking privacy rights away from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule,” Nelson said. “This is a gold mine of data, the Holy Grail, so to speak.”
“It is no wonder that broadband providers want to be able to sell this information to the highest bidder without the consumer’s knowledge or consent,” Nelson continued. “And they want to collect and use this information without providing transparency or being held accountable. Is this what you want to inflict upon your constituents in your state by changing this rule about their personal, sensitive privacy?”
The measure, approved today on a party-line vote, now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Below is the text of Nelson’s floor speech yesterday, and here’s a link to watch an excerpt of his remarks: https://youtu.be/8L52XauLvi0.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
March 22, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, we’re talking about away privacy rights from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule.
Do you want a large company that’s an internet provider that has all the information personally sensitive information because of what you have been doing on the internet, do you want that company to be able to use it for commercial purposes without your consent. That’s the issue.
Now, if you want to protect people’s privacy, I would think that you would want to require that an individual who has paid money for the internet provider to provide them with the internet and then you get on that internet and you go to whatever site you want and you do business, you do personal business, you do banking, you go on the internet and you buy things, you talk about your children’s school, about when you’re going to pick up your children, maybe what your children want to wear to school, you want to talk about anything that’s personal on the internet.
Now, do you want that internet provider to have access to that information to be used for commercial purposes without your consent? If you asked that question to the American people, they’re going to give you a big, resounding no.
Now, should the internet provider use that information if you give your consent? Then that’s fair game. If you give your consent so that they can alert you before a certain date that you might want to give a certain gift to your wife at her birthday and they might have all that information, but maybe you don’t want them to have all the information about where your children go to school.
Personally sensitive information is what we’re talking about.
And, therefore, the whole issue here is, do you want the internet provider to be able to use that information without the person’s consent or do you want the person to have to actually effectively opt-in in order to give the internet provider that consent?
To me, this is a clear-cut case of privacy. Now, you can fancy it up, talking about FCC rules and so forth, and we’ve got the author of telecom acts, Senator Markey here is going to talk about this and the protections that were put in for telephones. But then — back then, remember, it was just you call from this number to this number on such and such a day for such and such a period of time. Even that was protected.
But now, just think about this. We’re talking about all the personal transactions that you do every day through the internet.
So, Mr. President, I rise today in opposition to this resolution brought under the Congressional Review Act to disapprove Federal Communications Commission’s broadband consumer privacy rules.
And, Mr. President, I would think that the distinguished senator sitting in the chair, who values privacy, as he does, that this is going to be something that he would be concerned about as well as every other senator in this chamber, because you know if you ask your constituents, do you want your privacy invaded without your consent, you know what the answer is going to be.
Americans care about their online privacy. They want to have control over how their personal information is exploited by third parties. In fact, a recent survey by the PEW Research Center found that 91% of adults — 91% of adults — feel they have lost control of how their personal information is collected and then used.
And that same study found that 74% of Americans believe it is very important that they be in control of who can get information about them. And a majority believe that their travels around the internet — the sites they visit and how long they spend there in that location — is sensitive information that should be protected.
I hope the senators are going to pay attention to this because we’re talking about sensitive personal information.
Do you know that your geolocation is something that you are transmitting over the internet? Do you want that, your location and where you’ve been, do you want that to be in the hands of somebody who could use that for commercial purposes? I don’t think so.
And so that’s why this past October the FCC provided broadband subscribers with tools to allow them to have greater control over how their personal online information is used, is shared and then is sold.
The FCC has been protecting telephone customer privacy for decades and it updated its long-standing privacy protections to protect the privacy of broadband customers.
In fact, it is safe to say that what the FCC did last October was the most comprehensive update to its consumer privacy and data protection rules in decades.
The FCC put in place clear rules that require broadband providers to seek their subscribers’ specific and informed consent before using or sharing sensitive personal information and to give broadband customers the right to opt out of having their non-sensitive information used and shared if they chose to do so.
The FCC also gave broadband subscribers additional confidence in the protection and security of their data by putting in place reasonable data security and breach notification requirements for broadband providers.
Simply put, the FCC decided to put American consumers — each one of us who pay these monthly fees for their broadband service – to put us in the driver’s seat of how our personal online data is used and shared by the broadband provider. That we’ve been paying a monthly fee to use their service. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.
And understand, please, that broadband providers know a lot about every one of us.
In fact, it may be startling the picture that your broadband provider can develop about your daily habits and then sell that to the highest bidder.
Your home broadband provider can know when you wake up every day, either by knowing the time each morning that you log onto the internet to check the weather us in news of the morning or through a connected device in your home.
And that provider may know immediately that you’re not feeling well. You kind of feel sick, assuming you peruse the internet like moves us do to get a quick check on your symptoms. In fact, your broadband provider may know more about your health and your reaction to illness than you are willing to share with your doctor.
Think about that. Personal privacy? You let this go to the highest bidder, personal privacy of sensitive information is going to be out the window.
Your home broadband provider can build a profile about your listening and viewing habits, given that moves us today access music, news, video programming over broadband. Your broadband provider may have a better financial picture of you than even your bank or your brokerage firm or your financial advisor because they see every website that you visit across every device in your home and can build a thorough profile about you through these habits.
And if you live in a connected home — the home of the future and the future is now, by the way — if you live in a connected home, they may know even more detail about how you go about your day-to-day activities. Your mobile broadband provider knows how you move about through the day, your geolocation. They know through information about that geolocation and the internet activity, all of that – through guess what? Through this mobile device.
Don’t you think this is connected to the internet? And that’s not to mention the sort of profile that a broadband provider can start to build about our children from their birth.
It’s a gold mine of data. The Holy Grail, so to speak. It is no wonder that broadband providers want to be able to sell this information to the highest bidder without the consumer’s or consent and they want to collect and use this information without providing transparency or being held accountable.
Is this what you want to inflict upon your constituents in your states by changing this rule about their personal sensitive privacy? I don’t think — you better know what you are doing what you vote tomorrow, and this vote is coming about noon tomorrow. You better know.
As a country, we have not stood for this in the past, this kind of free utilization of information by entities that may want to have a unique look at who we are.
We place stringent limits on the use of information by our doctors. We place stringent limits by our banks. And when it comes to our children, I mean, that ought to be off limits.
Broadband providers can build similar profiles about us and in fact many may be able to provide more detail about someone than any one of those entities can. Passing this Senate resolution will take consumers out of the driver’s seat and place the collection and use of their information behind a veil of secrecy, despite rhetoric surrounding our debate today suggesting that eliminating these commonsense rules will better protect consumers’ privacy online or will eliminate consumer confusion.
Don’t fall for that argument, senators.
In fact, the resolution will wipe out thoughtful rules that were the product of months of hard work by the expert agency on regulating communications networks of all kinds. These rules were crafted based upon a thorough record developed through an extensive multi-month rule-making proceeding. The FCC received more than a quarter of a million of filings during this proceeding.
They listened to the American people. The agency received extensive input from stakeholders from all quarters of the debate, from the broadband providers and telephone companies to the public interest groups, and from academics to individual consumers.
And we’re going to wipe all of this away at noon tomorrow with a vote that you can do it by 50 votes in this chamber?
I don’t think this is what the people want.
On top of this, the rules are based on long-standing privacy protections maintained by the FCC for telephone companies. As well as the work of and the principles advocated by the Federal Trade Commission and advocated by state attorneys general and others in protecting consumer privacy.
The FCC rules put in place basic safeguards for consumers’ privacy based on three concepts that are widely accepted as the basis for privacy regulation in the United States and around the world. Notice, choice – individual choice, consumer choice – and security, those three, and they are not the radical proposals that some would have you believe they are.
First, the rules require broadband providers to notify their customers about what types of information it collects about the individual customers when they disclose or permit access to that information and how customers can provide consent to that collection and disclosure.
Secondly, the rules give consumers choice by requiring broadband providers to obtain a customer’s affirmative opt-in — in other words, I give you my consent before you can use or share my sensitive personal information. Sensitive information includes a customer’s — as I mentioned earlier — precise geographic location. I don’t think you want some people to know exactly where you are. Your personal information of health, financial, information about your children, your Social Security number. How many laws do we have protecting Social Security numbers? The content that you have accumulated on the web, web browsing, and application usage information.
For information considered nonsensitive, broadband providers must allow customers to opt out of use and sharing of such information. And broadband providers must provide simple and persistently abatable means for customers to exercise their privacy choices.
And third, broadband providers are required to take reasonable measures to protect customers’ information from unauthorized use, disclosure or access. They must also comply with specific breach notification requirements. In other words, if somebody has busted the internet and stolen all this information from a site, don’t you think that you ought to be notified that your personal information was hacked? Well, that’s one of the requirements.
So then I ask my colleagues what in the world is wrong with requiring broadband providers to give their paying customers clear, understandable and accurate information about what confidential and potentially highly personal information these companies collect, what is wrong about getting their consent to collect that information from their subscribers? What is wrong with telling customers how their information is collected when they use their broadband service? What’s wrong with telling customers with whom they share this sensitive information? What’s wrong with letting customers have a say in how their information is used? What’s wrong with recognizing that information about a consumer’s browsing history and app usage is sensitive and personal information that should be held to a higher standard before it is shared with others? What’s wrong with all that?
What’s wrong with seeking a parent’s consent before information about their children’s activities or location is sold to the highest bidder? Do we as parents not go out of our way to protect our children’s well-being and their privacy?
Trying to overturn this rule is what’s wrong. What’s wrong with protecting consumers from being forced to sign away their privacy rights in order to subscribe to a broadband service? I want your internet service. Have I got to sign away the rights to my private information, my private sensitive information? What’s wrong with making companies take reasonable efforts to safeguard the security of consumers’ data? What’s wrong with making companies notify their subscribers when they have had a breach?
Again, I ask my colleagues what in the world is wrong with giving consumers increased choice, transparency and security online?
Supporters of the joint resolution fail to acknowledge the negative impact that this resolution is going to have on the American people. This legislation is going to wipe away a set of reasonable, commonsense protections, and I want to emphasize that. Is it common sense to protect our personally sensitive private information? Of course it is. But we’re just about in a vote at noon tomorrow, with a majority vote, not a 60-vote threshold, a majority vote here, we’re just about to wipe all of that out.
It will open our internet browsing histories and application usage patterns up to exploitation for commercial purposes by broadband providers and third parties who will line up to buy your information.
It will create a privacy-free zone for broadband companies with no federal regulator having effective tools to set rules of the road for collection, use and sale of that uniquely personal information of yours. It will tie the hands of the FCC because they can’t go back. Once this rule is overturned, they can’t go back and redo this rule. It will tie the hands of the Federal Communications Commission and eliminate the future ability to adopt clear, effective privacy and data security protections for you as a subscriber. And in some cases, even for telephone subscribers.
To be sure, there are those who disagree with the FCC’s broadband consumer privacy rules, and there is an avenue for those complaints. These same companies who are pushing the joint resolution have filed for reconsideration of the rules at the FCC, and there is a judicial system. That is the appropriate way. Go back and get the FCC to amend, if you all are so concerned, or let the judicial system work its will, but don’t do it in one fell swoop in a majority rule here in this body tomorrow at noon.
In fact, the critics of the FCC’s rules have an open proceeding at the FCC in which they can argue on the record with an opportunity for full public participation to change and alter these rules. If the FCC did it, you got a new FCC, a new chairman, a new majority on the FCC, let them be the ones to amend the rules after all the safeguards of the open hearings, of the comment period, all of that.
By contrast, what we are using here to invade our privacy is a blunt congressional instrument called the Congressional Review Act. It means that all aspects of the rules adopted by the FCC must be overturned at once, including changes to the FCC’s telephone privacy rules. It would deny the agency the power to protect consumers’ privacy online, and it would prevent the FCC — get this — prevent them, the FCC, the regulatory body, who now has a new chairman and a new majority, it would prevent the FCC from ever adopting even similar rules. I don’t think that’s what we want to do because it doesn’t make sense, and that’s exactly what we are about to do.
I also want to address the argument that the FCC’s rules are unfair to broadband providers because the same rules do not apply to other companies in the internet ecosystem. Supporters of this resolution will argue that the other entities in the internet ecosystem have access to the same personal information that the broadband providers do. They argue that everyone in the data collection business should be on a level playing field.
Well, I ask my colleagues whether they have asked their constituents that question directly. Do Americans really believe that all persons who hold data about them should be treated the same? I venture to guess that most Americans would agree with the FCC, that companies who are able to build detailed particulars about you and build those particular pictures about your lives through unique insights because of what you do every day in their internet usage, shouldn’t those companies be held to a higher standard?
In addition, the FCC’s rules still allow broadband providers to collect and use their subscriber’s information. The providers merely need to obtain consent from those activities when it comes to their subscribers’ highly sensitive information. The FCC also found that the broadband providers, unlike any other companies in the internet ecosystem, are uniquely able to see every packet of information that a subscriber sends and receives. Every packet of information that you send or receive over the internet while on their networks.
So if you’ve got a provider and they’re on your iPhone and you’re using them, they’re seeing everything. That’s not the case if you go to Google, because Google only sees what you do while you’re on Google. But the internet provider, the pipe that is carrying your information, they see everything that you do.
Supporters of the joint resolution also hold out the superiority of the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts on protecting privacy. They argue that they should only be one privacy cop on the beat. But, folks, that ignores reality. The FTC doesn’t do everything. There are a number of privacy cops on the beat. Congress has given the FCC, the FTC, the FDA, NHTSA regulatory authority to protect consumers’ privacy.
You better get this clear because the FCC is the only agency to which Congress has given statutory authority to adopt rules to protect broadband customers’ privacy. The FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, does not have the rule-making authority in data security, even though commissioners at the FTC have asked Congress for such authority in the past. And given recent court cases, the FTC now faces even more insurmountable legal obstacles to taking actions, protecting broadband consumers’ privacy. So don’t be fooled by this argument that folks are telling you over here that it ought to be the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission.
As many have pointed out, elimination of the FCC’s rules will result in a very wide chasm where broadband and cable companies have no discernible regulation, while internet edge companies abide by the FTC enforcement efforts. And without clear rules of the road, broadband subscribers will have no certainty of choice about how their private information can be used and no protection against its abuse. No protection, my fellow Americans, of your personal, sensitive, private data.
And that’s why this senator supports the FCC’s broadband consumer privacy rules, and I want to encourage my fellow senators, you better examine what you’re about to do to people’s personal privacy before you vote to overturn this rule tomorrow. And I would urge my colleagues to vote against the joint resolution.
Mr. President, I yield floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues not to take up any legislation that would undo the recent progress made to combat the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.
Nelson’s comments come as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on a new health care bill, also known as Trumpcare, that would reduce federal funding for Medicaid, which funds one fourth of the country’s substance abuse programs. Congress voted last year to provide additional funding to help fight the growing epidemic after more than 2,000 Floridians died in 2015 from an opioid overdose.
“A lot of us, including this senator, voted to provide additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law to fight the opioid addictions,” Nelson said. “And despite this progress, now the House tomorrow – probably tomorrow night – is about to pass legislation that would completely undermine last year’s bipartisan efforts to respond to the epidemic.”
“Opioid abuse is a deadly, serious problem and we cannot ignore it,” Nelson added. “We should be investing more resources into helping these people and their families, not cutting them at a time that we need it the most.”
Just last month, the vice mayor of Palm Beach County sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott urging him to declare a public health emergency to help the county deal with its local epidemic.
Nelson made a similar plea in a letter he and others sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday. A copy of that letter is available here.
Below is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon, and here’s a link to watch video of his speech: https://youtu.be/3lb8eHbUDGI.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
March 22, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, there has been a lot of conversation from so many of our fellow senators about the opioid crisis that has been devastating individuals and families across the country.
We heard this particularly in New Hampshire as it was a topic of discussion last fall during the election. It was an opportunity to bring to the nation’s attention because of the eyes being focused first on the New Hampshire primary of a real opioid crisis. Well, what we also then discussed was it wasn’t just affecting a few states. It was affecting most of the states. And that is the case with my state of Florida.
Addiction to opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015 more than 33,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdose. That’s 15% more people than had died just the previous year. And I don’t have the figures for last year 2016.
And so Florida, is right there in that national trend. What Florida saw between 2014 and 2015 was a 22.7% increase. It’s staggering because in that year Florida suffered over 2,000 deaths from opioid overdose.
Earlier this month our office interviewed a woman from Florida’s Aging Committee hearing — we interviewed a lady from Florida for yesterday’s Aging Committee’s hearing, and she is caring for her 7-year-old grandson because his mother lost custody, was later incarcerated due to her drug addiction.
And sadly this story is all too familiar. The number of grandparents serving as the primary caretakers for their grandchildren is increasing as was the case with the lady from Florida who testified at the Aging Committee hearing this week. They are primary caretakers for their grandchildren, and it’s in large part because of the opioid epidemic.
In addition to the devastating loss of life and the challenges for the new caregivers, opioid abuse is straining local and state budgets. Just last month the vice mayor of Palm Beach County sent a letter to the governor urging to declare a public health emergency in Florida, citing the loss of life and financial impact, in this case, to Palm Beach County.
Yesterday several of my colleagues and I sent a letter to the majority leader, majority leader of the Senate, highlighting some of our concerns with the House of Representatives health care bill that I call Trumpcare and how it’s going to impact those with substance abuse and disorders. Because one of the things that we’re most concerned about is how the proposed changes in Medicaid that they’re going to vote at the other end of the hall right down here tomorrow, they’re going to vote on the House of Representatives health care Trumpcare bill, the changes that they make to Medicaid, it would prevent states from being able to respond to the opioid crisis because Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against opioids.
But changing the Medicaid program to a block grant or a cap is going to shift cost to the states. The states are not going to pick up that additional cost. It’s going to eliminate also some of the federal protections and it’s only going to hurt our people who rely on Medicaid to help them as we are combating this opioid crisis.
Because with less federal funding, how are states like mine going to provide the necessary services to help individuals with the substance abuse and the disorders. Congress ought to be doing more to help this crisis, not less.
And how many times have you heard a senator like this senator come to the floor and talk about the opioid epidemic? And yet we’re just about to do it to ourselves if we were to pass this Trumpcare bill.
Remember last year while so many of us, including this senator, were early supporters of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016? It was signed into law last year. The law takes a comprehensive approach to this opioid problem.
A few months ago a lot of us including this senator voted to provide additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law to fight the opioid addictions. And despite this progress, now the House tomorrow, probably tomorrow night is about to pass legislation that would completely undermine last year’s bipartisan efforts to respond to the epidemic and to undercut the health care for millions of people in this country.
Opioid abuse is a deadly, serious problem and we cannot ignore it. We should be investing more resources into helping these people and their families, not cutting them at a time that we need it the most.
So, again, I make a plea. We made progress last year with the law. We passed the new law. We made progress giving some additional funding. Now, the crisis hasn’t gone away. We still need to respond but at the very same time what we see happening to the Medicaid program – eliminating Medicaid as we know it, health care for the people that are then least fortunate among us, we’re about to cut back on all that progress that we made on this opioid crisis. I hope that we will think better of this and not do it to ourselves.
Madam President, I yield the floor.