Groups to FCC: Protect Privacy Rights, Block Internet Gatekeepers' Data Collection

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Groups to FCC: Protect Privacy Rights, Block Internet Gatekeepers' Data Collection

Potential surveillance by broadband providers 'can create a chilling effect on speech'

Groups including ACLU and EFF tell FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to "propos[e] strong rules to protect consumers from having their personal data collected and shared by their broadband provider without affirmative consent."  (Photo: dugbee/flickr/cc)

The FCC must protect consumers' privacy rights and promptly propose strong rules for broadband providers—who have access to troves of Internet users' data—that prevent unauthorized collection and sharing of that information, a diverse coalition told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Wednesday.

The call was made in a letter (pdf) to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and signed by dozens of groups including the ACLU, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Public Knowledge.

Their letter states that broadband Internet providers'

position as Internet gatekeepers gives them a comprehensive view of consumer behavior and until now privacy protections for consumers using those services have been unclear. Nor is there any way for consumers to avoid data collection by the entities that provide Internet access service. As the role of the Internet in the daily lives of consumers increases, this means an increased potential for surveillance. This can create a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices derived from data use.

It adds:

We therefore strongly urge that the FCC move forward as quickly as possible on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing strong rules to protect consumers from having their personal data collected and shared by their broadband provider without affirmative consent, or for purposes other than providing broadband Internet access service.  The proposed rules should also provide for notice of data breaches, and hold broadband providers accountable for any failure to take suitable precautions to protect personal data collected from users. In addition, the rules should require broadband providers to clearly disclose their data collection practices to subscribers, and allow subscribers to ascertain to whom their data is disclosed.

As a press statement from media reform group Free Press explained, the FCC's vote in February 2015 to enforce net neutrality and "reclassify broadband access providers under Title II of the Communications Act restores the FCC’s power to protect the privacy of all telecom service users, including broadband Internet access users."

As the groups note, the changes they are now pushing the FCC to enact would afford protections to massive amounts of data.

"Every bit of data that consumers access on the Internet passes through the hands of an Internet Service Provider," Meredith Rose, Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge, said in a media statement. "It's this gatekeeper role that gives ISPs access to a vast amount of private data about their customers, and creates a substantial potential for abuse. We as consumers call on the FCC to open a proceeding to examine ISP's access to, and use of, consumers' proprietary information, and to ensure that users' privacy is protected."

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