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President Trump Signs Law Scrapping FCC Broadband Privacy Rule – Update

Deadline logo Deadline 4/4/2017 David Lieberman
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2ND UPDATE, 5:29 PM: President Donald Trump has signed into law Senate Joint Resolution 34, which “nullifies the Federal Communications Commission’s rule on privacy of customers of broadband and other telecommunications services.” The move was expected after the Senate and the House passed bills scrapping an Obama administration rule requiring ISPs to secure consumers’ permission before using or selling data about their Internet use.

Opponents for the most part complained that the FCC’s opt-in requirements were tougher on ISPs than the Federal Trade Commission is with its privacy rules that govern service providers such as Google and Facebook. Big Common Cause, a vocal opponent of the bill saying that if Trump signed it “broadband providers will have free rein to sell user data to the highest bidder – without ever informing consumers….” They tweeted out a result of a poll saying the public was against revoking the rule.

UPDATED, March 28: The House just voted 215-205 to scrap FCC rules that would require ISPs to obtain subscribers’ consent before using or selling data about their Internet habits.

The decision virtually guarantees that one of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s most hard-fought initiatives will be scuttled. The vote, mostly along partisan lines, mirrors last week’s 50-48 Senate vote approving a similar bill. President Trump is expected to sign.

“Big Cable and Big Telecom have struck again,” says former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now Special Adviser to Common Cause. “If this bill is signed by the president, broadband providers will have free rein to sell user data to the highest bidder – without ever informing consumers….What a perversion of what the Internet was supposed to be.”

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who opposed his agency’s privacy rules, vowed to “work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework. In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

The cable industry’s NCTA – the Internet & Television Association — calls the vote “an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all Internet companies.”

PREVIOUS, March 28, 10:09 AM: Opponents and supporters of the FCC’s broadband privacy rules are furiously lobbying the House of Representatives today as lawmakers prepare to vote this afternoon on a bill that could all but kill the initiative.

The House is expected to support a bill similar to one the Senate approved in a 50-to-48 vote last week to scrap the yet-to-take-effect rules requiring ISPs to secure consumers’ permission before using or selling data about their internet use. If that happens, then President Trump will probably sign it into law.

“Those FCC rules are flawed,” former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who’s now co-chair of the cable and telecom industry-supported 21st Century Privacy Coalition, said today in a conference call with reporters to showcase objections to the plan.

The FTC raised 27 complaints “in a bi-partisan and unanimous comment letter,” he adds. Although the FCC responded to many of those objections, “it failed to address the most important issues leaving the final rule, in the FTC’s own words, ‘sub-optimal’.”

Opponents for the most part complain that the FCC’s opt-in requirements are tougher on ISPs than the FTC is with its privacy rules that govern service providers such as Google and Facebook.

They collect “as much or more” personal data than ISPs do, Leibowitz says.

21st Century Privacy Coalition General Counsel Howard Waltzman says that “a lot” of the opposition to ISPs has been “ginned up.”

“There’s a lot of information out there that somehow ISPs use the online information differently than other companies in the internet ecosystem or that they even have the ability to see information that others do not,” he adds — rejecting both views.

NCTA – the Internet & Television Association EVP James Assey says that “it’s always easier for one side to create a parade of horribles, but when you track back to what the charges are, they almost never reflect what ISPs are actually doing.”

Companies such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are “respectful and protectful of consumers data,” he says.

Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also opposes the rules, saying that he would prefer a “technology neutral” plan that syncs with the FTC privacy mandates.

That’s not how supporters of the FCC initiative see things.

The Silicon Valley supported Electronic Frontier Foundation says that “Internet providers haven’t exactly been bastions of security when it comes to keeping information about their customers safe” noting that in 2015 Comcast paid a $33 million penalty after it unintentionally released phone users’ unlisted numbers.

The group fears that ISPs will use consumer data to insert additional ads on top of the ones that content providers sell, or insert spyware to improve their ability to track customers on different platforms (for example on smartphones as well as home computers).

FreePress, an open internet activist group, says it’s “working with nearly a dozen other organizations to make phones ring off the hook on Capitol Hill” urging lawmakers to reject the proposal to derail the rules.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who left in January, promoted the rules which passed in October on a party-line vote. He said at the time that the “more our economy and our lives move online, the more information about us goes over our Internet Service Provider (ISP) – and the more consumers want to know how to protect their personal information in the digital age.”

The FCC’s plan would require cable and phone companies to tell customers what information they collect, how they use it, and the types of entities with whom they share it.

ISPs would be required to make these disclosures when someone signs up for service, and any time there’s a significant change in policy.

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