In what was a surprise to basically no one, the president signed a bill into law Monday voiding the FCC’s controversial broadband privacy rules, which would have required ISPs obtain customers’ consent in order to use and share their personal information. Many pro and con opinions have appeared in the last couple weeks as the Senate and the House moved the measure forward via the Congressional Review Act, and that included a statement from the White House indicating the Administration disapproved of the FCC rules.
ISPs and their trade associations have long argued that inconsistency and confusion would result if the FCC privacy rules were allowed to stand since they didn’t match with FTC rules that other companies in the internet ecosystem, such as Google and Facebook, must follow. Privacy advocates claimed that without the FCC rules, consumers risked having their sensitive personal information sold to the highest bidder.
For its part, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association countered that claim last week with a “myth vs. reality” overview that’s available here. “ISPs today do not sell their customers’ sensitive personal data and have no plans to do so,” NCTA says. “Repeal of the FCC’s rules will not change current ISP practices. They have long complied with privacy practices related to the use of sensitive data collected online that are consistent with the Federal Trade Commission’s framework for privacy protection.”
The association also pointed to a pledge major ISPs made in January reiterating a commitment to follow principles consistent with the FTC’s approach, including the commitment not to sell their customers’ sensitive information – including financial, children’s, and health information, as well as social security numbers and precise geolocation data – without first obtaining opt-in consent of their customers.
“So contrary to the baseless claims of some, Congress’s repeal of the FCC’s misguided rules will not allow ISPs to sell sensitive data to the highest bidder without their customers’ knowledge or consent,” NCTA stresses.
ISPs chimed in loudly late last week as well, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon by underlining that they don’t sell individual browsing information and do not have plans to do so. More on that is here.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who’s been very vociferous in his opposition to the rules, put out a statement after Trump signed 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 says.
“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 continues. “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 and broadband 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, says.
“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 continues. “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