In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC today supported Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal — introduced earlier this month — to begin a proceeding that could strengthen Internet users’ privacy rights. It might lead to new rules empowering web users to keep private data about who they are, where they go, the sites they visit and the applications they use.
The FCC already limits the way traditional phone providers use data. Wheeler’s proposal would extend its authority to Internet communications. It would only apply to ISPs — not sites such as Twitter and Facebook or sites owned by broadband providers. They’re regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.
Still, the proposal has ignited a debate over how much power ISPs, and the FCC, should have over Internet data. Here’s a sampling of the opening arguments out today.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:
Our ISPs handle all of our network traffic. That means an ISP has a broad view of all of its customers’ unencrypted online activity – when we are online, the websites we visit, and the apps we use. If we have mobile devices — and I have had a mobile device since 1983 – our providers can track our physical location throughout the day in real time. Even when data is encrypted, our broadband providers can piece together significant amounts of information about us – including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems – based on our online activity.
Today’s proposal would give all consumers the tools we need to make informed decisions about how our ISPs use and share our data, and confidence that ISPs are keeping their customers’ data secure.
Free Press Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia:
Consumers face real privacy harms from their ISPs. Earlier this month, the FCC levied a $1.3 million fine against Verizon over the company’s secret tracking of its customers. Other ISPs have programs that repackage and sell their users’ browsing histories to online marketers, even as most of their customers remain in the dark about what’s being done with their data.
…By virtue of their position, ISPs have near-unfettered access to our Internet traffic, allowing them to build comprehensive profiles of their users by surveilling the websites they visit and tracking the services they use online. This is why Congress directed the FCC to take special care in protecting against use of this information without users’ affirmative consent.”
Comcast Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen:
Today, the FCC adopted a tilted notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes an irrational and unjustified set of regulatory shackles on ISPs. … The proposed rules will not provide meaningful consumer Internet privacy protections, and will block ISPs from bringing new competition to the online advertising market that could benefit consumers.
…The best approach would be to put in place a uniform and consistent privacy regime, through coordination between the FCC and FTC or, if necessary, by statute or through a multi-stakeholder process.
National Cable and Telecommunications Association:
Today’s FCC action unfortunately mistakes a good headline for actual headway in advancing consistent standards of privacy protection and fair competition. Under the FCC’s proposal, ISPs would have far more onerous requirements than the ones imposed on other large online entities that have access to a wider range of user information than ISPs.
…[T]oday’s FCC proposal will only lead to greater consumer confusion about how their online data is protected, rather than furthering an approach grounded in greater consistency and fairness among all Internet participants. As broadband providers long committed to protecting the privacy of our customers, we hope that a more considered review of the facts and the potential negative consequences of its proposal will convince the Commission to move in a different direction.
USTelecom President Walter McCormick:
The FCC’s proposed tentative conclusions, if adopted, will create a morass of regulations in the Internet privacy space and fail to provide a platform allowing consumers to count on privacy rules that are evenly applied across the Internet economy. We urge the commission to take the time to consider the systems at work in the larger Internet ecosystem that have supported so much innovation, and implement rules that are consistent with the Federal Trade Commission’s longstanding and effective approach to privacy that has applied across the Internet, including to broadband providers, for years.”