FCC Chairman Proposes Rollback of Internet Privacy Rules

FCC chairman Ajit Pai last week pledged to stay the implementation of the initial set of the new privacy rules-data security requirements-that are scheduled to take effect March 2 and has signaled the FCC will rethink the entire regime to the degree that it diverges from the lighter-touch approach of the Federal Trade Commission over edge providers. (That, and the notion of an "informed" anything is anathema to this administration.) There are those who are speaking out against the move, of course, including Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who said it "represents yet another in a series of steps being taken to jettison pro-consumer initiatives, and we should not stand silent as consumer protections "go gentle into that good night".

When the FCC initially voted on these rules a year ago, Tom Wheeler, the former chairman, argued internet service providers should be subject to stricter privacy rules because they function differently than websites.

In October, the FCC voted to approve rules that would subject broadband internet providers to stricter privacy requirements than websites.

The Federal Communications Commission's head seeks a stay of rule on internet privacy.


Now, following the election of Donald Trump as president and with Congress refusing for a year to re-elect commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, those two Republicans are in a 2-1 majority on the FCC and have chose to unravel the rules, as well as many other recent FCC decisions, particularly as they pertain to net neutrality. Therefore, he has advocated returning to a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world and harmonizing the FCC's privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC's standards for others in the digital economy. With ISPs, consumers have very little choice.

"The rules the FCC adopted conform to long-standing FTC practice and provide clear rules on how broadband companies should protect their customers' personal information", McSweeny said. Wheeler stepped down in January and Pai was named the new FCC chairman.

But critics have complained that the rules only apply to ISPs, and not to giant online companies, like Google and Facebook, that collect huge amounts of personal data. Under the rules, providers would be required to get a customer's consent before accessing information on their location, children, or web history. It also suggests a possible alternative that United States privacy advocates may want to consider now that the Obama administration FCC regulations have been derailed. In specific cases, the FCC planned to consider the ISP's size, the technical feasibility of security measures, "the nature and scope of [an ISP's] activities", and "the sensitivity of the data it collects".

"In an ongoing quest to dismantle basic consumer protections for broadband services, the majority has made a decision to exempt billion-dollar public companies from being transparent with consumers", Clyburn added.

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