Governance & Risk Management , Privacy , Standards, Regulations & Compliance

FCC's Pending ISP Privacy Regulation in Jeopardy

Senate Votes to Void New Rule that Would Limit Selling of Consumer Data
FCC's Pending ISP Privacy Regulation in Jeopardy
Sen. Jeff Flake is sponsor of a bill to quash an FCC rule on online privacy.

An Obama-era regulation, which has yet to take effect, that aims to strengthen consumers' online privacy may be derailed. The Senate has voted along party lines to quash the rule that the Federal Communications Commission issued in October.

See Also: EU-US Data Privacy Framework: Your Questions Answered

That rule - scheduled to take effect this fall - would prevent internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from selling information on consumers' internet browsing, application use, location and finances without their permission. Existing rules allow ISPs to distribute the information to advertisers and others unless the consumer proactively opts out. The culled information helps ISPs target consumers with tailored advertising.

If Senate Joint Resolution 34 - approved March 23 by a 50-48 vote - passes the House and is signed by President Donald Trump, as expected, the new regulation will be voided.

'Fundamental Right to Privacy'

"Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American's sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared and sold to the highest bidder without their permission," said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. "The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them. We should not have to forgo our fundamental right to privacy just because our homes and phones are connected to the internet.

The new regulation would not have applied to web companies, such as Google and Facebook, a point the ISPs contend was unfair. ISPs want the FCC to adhere to policies established in 2012 by another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission.

"The Senate's action represents a critical step toward re-establishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online," said Brian Dietz, vice president of the Internet and Television Association, a trade group that's lobbying for passage of the joint resolution. "We support this step toward reversing the FCC's misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve."

Abolishing 'Innovation-Stifling' Regulation

Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who sponsored the legislation, contends the new FCC rule would not have changed or lessened existing consumer privacy regulation. "The FCC's midnight regulation ... is unnecessary, confusing and adds yet another innovation-stifling regulation to the internet," Flake said when he introduced the resolution earlier this month. "My resolution is the first step toward restoring the FTC's light-touch, consumer-friendly approach. It will not change or lessen existing consumer privacy protections. It empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared."

But privacy advocates says Flake's legislation would do just the opposite by making the selling of data the default setting that benefits the bottom line of ISPs while hurting customers who don't know they could opt out. "ISPs act as gatekeepers to the internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online," says Kate Tummarello, a policy analyst for the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "They shouldn't be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase and more without your consent."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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