Free Press Welcomes FCC Effort to Protect Broadband Users’ Privacy
WASHINGTON - On Thursday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler took steps to protect broadband users’ privacy, circulating a proposal to his fellow commissioners in advance of an expected vote on March 31 to open a new proceeding on the topic.
The FCC’s action stems from its correct decision in 2015 to return to its congressional mandate and regulate broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. That law requires the FCC to craft strong privacy protections for users of telecommunications services, protecting consumers from carriers’ ability to access and misuse customers’ private information. The crux of the strong privacy authority Title II grants the FCC is the requirement that broadband providers obtain users’ “opt-in” consent before sharing personal data or using it in an unauthorized way.
In a fact sheet on the issue, Chairman Wheeler’s office wrote: “When consumers sign up for Internet service, they shouldn’t have to sign away their right to privacy.”
In January, Free Press joined 58 digital rights, consumer advocacy and privacy organizations in sending a letter to Chairman Wheeler that calls for strong rules to protect the privacy and data security of broadband users. The signers urged the FCC to update its privacy protections, adapting for broadband Internet access the kinds of robust safeguards that have protected users of telephone and other telecom services.
Free Press Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“As with the social media sites or search engines we use, our broadband providers can monitor and misuse our most private information. But while we can choose among millions of options when it comes to websites and apps, we have little to no choice when it comes to our Internet service providers. That’s why Congress was wise to require that the FCC maintain special privacy protections for customers of all common carriers. It’s crucial for the FCC to modernize these protections and apply them to broadband.
“As the gatekeepers to the Internet, ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are uniquely positioned to access almost all of our Internet traffic, including information about the sites we visit and the messages we send. That’s especially true when Internet users aren’t encrypting their conversations or taking other steps to protect themselves from prying.
“Much sensitive information still passes over the Internet in unencrypted form. But even when encryption measures are in place, ISPs can gather a tremendous amount of knowledge about where Internet users are going or what they’re talking about.
“The FCC began an important process today, building on Title II and the sensible common-carriage framework it restored for broadband ISPs. Applying Section 222 privacy protections to these providers makes sense. Net Neutrality rules stem from the fact that your cable or phone company has no right to block or dictate your choices on the Internet. Today’s proposal should result in a similar recognition that these carriers have no right to watch or listen in on your communications either.
“By initiating this rulemaking, the FCC is taking the first step toward fulfilling its responsibility under Title II to protect the privacy of all telecommunications customers — including broadband Internet users. Chairman Wheeler and the other commissioners must establish the agency as a strong defender of online privacy.”
Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications. Learn more at www.freepress.net