ISPs looking to roll back new FCC privacy rules

Privacy Export

New FCC Rules on how ISPs can use customer data came into force in the US on January 3rd, but already they look likely to be overturned.

The new rules, which we reported on back in November, required ISPs to get customers to opt-in before being able to share their data and personal information with third parties such as advertisers. They also redefined what was considered to be sensitive personal information.

At the time the new rules were approved, we published an article highlighting some of the flaws with them, but they were nevertheless a step in the right direction.

ISP Petition

On the same day that the new rules came partially into force, there was a petition filed with the FCC on behalf of the USA’s ISPs requesting that the new rules be reconsidered. This was confirmed in an FCC Public Notice.

The petition was filed by a number of lobby groups rather than the ISPs themselves directly. It included the United States Telecom Association, CTIA, the American Cable Association, the Competitive Carriers Association, ITTA, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. There were also a number of other petitions from organisations including Oracle and the Association of National Advertisers.

Usually, such petitions are considered and then rejected, but the current political situation in the USA has muddied the water somewhat this time. The new FCC rules were only passed by a majority of 3-2, with committee members voting along party lines; three Democrats in favour and two Republicans against.

Party Politics

However, since that vote, Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler and Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel have both announced that they will be leaving their posts, which gives the Republican members a 2 to 1 majority.

With new members being appointed by the new President, and current Republican member Ajit Pai looking likely to be appointed as the new Chairman, on at least an interim basis, ISP bodies have been delaying their actions in order to drag out the process.

With the petition filed on the last possible day, January 3rd, the period in which it will be considered now extends past the time when the Democratic members will have left. After publication, which happened today, there are now 15 days for opponents to file against the petitions and then 10 days for those objections to be addressed.

This means the final decision is likely to be made by a Republican-dominated Committee, chaired by Ajit Pai, and he has made his views against the new rules clear. His view is that ISPs shouldn’t face stricter rules than the likes of Twitter and Google.

“Due to the FCC’s action… those who have more insight into consumer behaviour will be subject to more lenient regulation than those who have less insight (ISPs),” he said. “This doesn’t make sense.”

He has also indicated that the FCC is likely to roll back quite a bit of what the current Democrat-led panel has implemented, saying “The FCC “need[s] to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations” and “remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”

All of which suggests that measures intended to protect customer data, which were admitted not perfect, are likely to be rolled back less than a few weeks after coming into force. It is a farcical situation which highlights the lack of credibility public privacy is really given by the US political elites.

With the Trump administration likely to do plenty more to undermine online privacy, US internet users would be well advised to make use of a VPN from next week onwards and take every care to minimise the risk of their data falling into the wrong hands.

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