Inside Cybersecurity

August 12, 2020

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Consumer advocates back FCC proposal for broadband privacy rules

June 1, 2016

Consumer advocates are backing the general intention of a Federal Communications Commission proposal that would impose privacy requirements on Internet service providers, while arguing that the new rules should go further in protecting more users of a broadband connection and clarifying that opting-in is not a condition for online services, among other measures.

“Securing this personal data requires transparency, fairness, consumer choice, and data security,” states the Consumer Federation of California in its May 27 comments to the FCC.

“To further this goal, the FCC should establish regulations which restrict broadband Internet access service (BIAS) providers from sharing personal consumer data for purposes that are not required to provide the access service for which the consumer enters into a relationship with the BIAS provider,” argues the consumer advocacy group.

The group Consumer Watchdog urges the FCC to not follow a negotiated process with industry and other stakeholders in developing the new privacy rules, among other recommendations.

“The FCC has rulemaking authority and should exercise it appropriately,” says Consumer Watchdog in its written comments, adding: “There is no useful purpose to a 'multi-stakeholder' process.”

The group notes the Commerce Department adopted a multi-stakeholder process in developing privacy rules for mobile apps and other electronic systems, but those “proceedings were largely captured by industry and produced codes with little significant impact.”

The assertions by consumer advocates are in stark contrast with the arguments by industry groups that have attacked the legal basis for the FCC's propose rules.

“Whatever action the Commission takes in response to the record on [its proposal], the agency should bear in mind that it has only limited authority to address privacy and data security” under federal communications law, according to the Consumer Technology Association, which represents manufacturers.

According to industry, FCC “may only adopt and enforce regulations intended to ensure protection of customer proprietary network information, and may do so only with respect to telecommunications carriers in their provision of telecommunications services,” states the CTA in its comments. “The Commission’s authority to regulate privacy in the communications space is not unbounded,” the group warns.

The arguments – a snapshot of the thousands of comments submitted to the FCC on Friday – lay out what is likely to be a major legal battle between consumer groups and industry over the proposed privacy regulations.

FCC issued its notice of proposed rulemaking on April 1 with another set of reply comments due June 27. Some sources indicate the commission is likely to issue its final rules in September, setting the marker for a potential legal fight that would likely extend into the next administration.

The brewing fight has already captured the attention of lawmakers, and was the subject of a Senate hearing last month where Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez pledged to work with the FCC on developing and enforcing privacy and data-security requirements. – Rick Weber (