President Trump signed a bill into law Monday tossing out the FCC’s controversial broadband privacy rules, which would have required ISPs to obtain customers’ consent in order to use and share their personal information. Both the Senate and the House moved the measure forward via the Congressional Review Act in the last couple weeks, and the Administration previously indicated it disapproved of the FCC rules.
ISPs and their trade associations opposed the FCC rules, arguing that inconsistency and confusion would result if they remained in place. That’s because they didn’t line up with FTC rules that other internet companies including Google and Facebook live under. Privacy advocates claimed that without the FCC rules, consumers risked having their sensitive personal information sold to the highest bidder.
ISPs, including AT&T and Verizon, put out statements late last week countering that concern. They stressed they don’t sell individual browsing information, do not have plans to do so, and have committed to principles that they say protect their customers’ privacy online.
Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia stated directly that Verizon doesn’t put its customers’ browsing history up for sale. “Let’s set the record straight. Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line,” Zacharia said in a statement.
AT&T also blogged about the topic last Friday, saying that much of the handwringing that occurred after the Senate and House votes is off base.
“The rhetoric that asserts – without any factual support – that the CRA vote suddenly eliminated consumer privacy protections is just plain wrong,” Bob Quinn, senior EVP, external and legislative affairs at AT&T said.
Quinn further stated that AT&T’s privacy protections are the same today as they were five months ago when the FCC rules were adopted. “We had the same protections in place the day before the Congressional resolution was passed, and we will have the same protections the day after President Trump signs the CRA into law,” he said. “The Congressional action had zero effect on the privacy protections afforded to consumers.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who’s been very vociferous in his opposition to the rules, put out a statement after Trump approved the law to void them. “Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were designed to benefit one group of favored companies, not online consumers,” Pai wrote.
“In order to deliver that consistent and comprehensive protection, the Federal Communications Commission will be working with the Federal Trade Commission to restore the FTC’s authority to police internet service providers’ privacy practices,” he continued. “We need to put America’s most experienced and expert privacy cop back on the beat. And we need to end the uncertainty and confusion that was created in 2015 when the FCC intruded in this space.”
Of course, proponents of the FCC privacy rules – and there were many – were far from happy with the legislative result that Trump’s signature sealed. Despite the aforementioned privacy assurances from ISPs as well as trade groups, they were dubious in their responses.
“No longer will Americans have rules that create secure communications networks for all. Companies may promise to secure or not sell their data, but the only agency with jurisdiction over broadband providers, the FCC, is now prohibited from creating similar rules to protect consumers in the future,” Chris Lewis, VP at Public Knowledge, said.
“Most Americans have only one choice for high-speed broadband service, and now these broadband monopolies can set their own privacy policies, change them on a whim, or leave us with no protections at all,” he continued. “These companies can also force Americans to pay to preserve their online data, as some companies have posited. This potentially raises broadband prices for everyone and forces poor Americans to choose between their privacy and access to the internet − period.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations