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The FCC Blocks New Internet Privacy Rule

The FCC Blocks New Internet Privacy Rule

The new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under chairman Ajit Pai voted last week to block one of the broadband privacy rules.

“The new rule, which had been scheduled to take effect Thursday, would have required internet service providers and phone companies to take “reasonable” steps to protect customers’ information from theft and data breaches, and provide notifications if they did occur,” writes Consumer Reports.

Pai said the move was done so the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could revaluate how they regulate the internet.

“After all, Americans care about the overall privacy of their information when they use the Internet, and they shouldn’t have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected differently depending on which part of the Internet holds it,” said Pai and acting FTC head Maureen Ohlhausen in a joint statement.

This rule was approved late last year, along with other broadband privacy rules by the agency when it was under Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

Many large companies in the telecom industry have been opposed to these rules stating that they are an unnecessary burden for internet service providers (ISP,) while Google and Facebook have much less privacy regulations to abide by.

But, proponents of the rule argue that now consumers are unprotected.

“The upshot is that a rule would have gone into effect today that would have made sure consumers’ personal data would be protected,” said Gigi Sohn, a former counselor to Wheeler. “It wasn’t exactly a very burdensome requirement either, they just had to take ‘reasonable’ measures. But now [consumers] are completely and totally unprotected.”

Pai and Ohlhausen claim they want to create privacy rules that impact all service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Google.

“We believe that the best way to do that is through a comprehensive and consistent framework,” said Pai and Ohlhausen in the joint statement last Wednesday.

The privacy issue is especially complicated since there is major confusion over what the FTC and FCC can regulate. 

“There is a potential gap right now in the jurisdiction of the two agencies, which Congress ought to remedy by removing the so-called common carrier exemption, and then the FTC would have authority over all of the providers in the internet ecosystem,” said Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation, who is in support of blocking the rule.  

Pai and Ohlhausen expressed similar sentiments.

“Two years after the FCC stripped broadband consumers of FTC privacy protections, some now express concern that the temporary delay of a rule not yet in effect will leave consumers unprotected. We agree that it is vital to fill the consumer protection gap created by the FCC in 2015, and today’s action is a step toward properly filling that gap. How that gap is filled matters, it does not serve consumers’ interests to create two distinct frameworks — one for Internet service providers and one for all other online companies,” said Pai and Ohlhausen. “We still believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices should be returned to the FTC, the nation’s expert agency with respect to these important subjects. All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency.”

Author’s note: Although, we are wary of any of the Obama Administration’s former regulations and their ability to actually be effective. After 8 years of promises to create a secure internet, it is not even close. However, we are strong proponents of maximum privacy. We believe that these companies should be held accountable when they make their data easily accessible and don’t take care of it.


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