FCC: Pai Halts Privacy Rules, Foreshadowing Broader Repeal

After a 2-to-1 vote, the FCC put a halt to a portion of the privacy rules passed in October. New FCC chair Ajit Pai said those rules required high-speed Internet providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, to secure their customers’ data against hacking and other unauthorized uses. This stay of new government rules may be a foreshadowing of a broader repeal of privacy protections, believe some experts. In line with that, Pai also stated that the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, should “oversee broadband and Internet industries.”

The New York Times quotes Pai, in a joint statement with the FTC acting chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen, as saying “all actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency.” The sole vote against the rollback came from FCC lone Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who said the decision “fells a tree to ostensibly prune a branch.”

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This repeal is in response to petitions filed by broadband providers and advertising trade groups that said the regulations gave Internet companies like Google and Facebook “an unfair advantage.”

Since Pai’s appointment, the FCC has dismantled data-security measures that allowed ISPs to “collect data on Web browsing and app usage only with the permission of customers.” Under Pai, the FCC has also “halted nine broadband providers from giving subsidized service to low-income users,” a program called Lifeline. The Republican Congress is approaching its own repeal of rules via the Congressional Review Act, “which allows lawmakers to vote to revoke new regulations.”

According to Wired, the rollback of the regulation now gives ISPs and broadband providers “the go-ahead from the Federal Communications Commission to sell your personal information without your permission.” The FCC, it adds, will now “likely pass a set of less stringent rules more in line with the way the FTC regulates websites like Facebook and Google.”

If, in the future, the FTC requires websites to “seek explicit permission before selling your data, the FCC may then follow suit for Internet providers.”

Pre-existing FCC rules forbid providers from “tracking customers without at least notifying them,” but, in 2015, the FCC reclassified ISPs as “common carriers,” subject to net neutrality rules. In last year’s suit by AT&T, a federal court ruled that, as common carriers, the FTC had no authority over them, and regulating Internet access fell to the FCC. After that ruling, the FCC began to set tighter privacy rules.

Now, with Pai in charge, “regulations letting both Internet access providers and websites sell your data may be consistent. But that doesn’t mean they make sense.”

Related:
If Trump Spoils Privacy Pact, We’ll Pull It, EU Official Warns, Bloomberg, 3/2/17