Tech

FCC votes to negate broadband privacy rules

As new FCC Commissioner Aji Pai telegraphed last week, the Commission voted today to stay a set of privacy rules for broadband providers, adopted last year, which would have come into effect tomorrow.

The stay is ostensibly because the rules, which basically prohibit ISPs from collecting and selling personal data of subscribers — don’t jibe well with others from the FTC that also concern data security. We covered the rules in more detail last year, and the questionable justification for their negation here.

A press release announcing the decision read in part:

Today’s decision will maintain a status quo that has been in place for nearly two years with respect to ISPs and nearly a decade with respect to other telecommunications carriers.

The Commission’s stay will provide time for the FCC to work with the FTC to create a comprehensive and consistent framework for protecting Americans’ online privacy.

It also mentions that the 2015 Open Internet Order essentially reassigned the responsibility for creating said framework, at least as far as it concerns ISPs, to the FCC. Since the FTC can’t, and the FCC won’t enact the requisite consumer protections, ISPs will have free reign to skim user data from their unique position in the communications infrastructure.

Mignon Clyburn, the Democratic Commissioner who was outvoted 2-1 on this item, wrote in a dissenting statement that the decision today fails in its own justifications:

Rather than interpret a duly-adopted, flexible rule in a manner that would be consistent with the majority’s understanding of its proper scope, they have chosen to gut the rule entirely.

…the Order alleges deleterious divergence from FTC standards, when in actuality there is little daylight between the approaches taken by the two agencies… This view was reiterated last week by FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny who stated that “[t]he rules the FCC adopted conform to long standing FTC practice and provide clear rules on how broadband companies should protect their customers’ personal information.”

…the Order alleges significant harm to service providers, but cites absolutely nothing to prove it. In fact, the stay request does not even begin to estimate the costs associated with compliance.

As I wrote earlier this week, this decision appears to have little to do with the rule itself and everything to do with Pai’s drive to roll back any actions taken over the last few years to expand the FCC’s authority in any way.

The ultimate goal is, as Pai has himself said, reversing the 2015 Open Internet Order. By paring back the FCC’s mission and scope here and there with moves like today’s, Pai is turning up the heat, with net neutrality the frog in the pot.

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