Privacy coalition urges FCC to police how ISPs use and protect customer data

The FCC is facing new pressure to use its expanded oversight of Internet service providers to enforce strict privacy safeguards.

A coalition of nearly 60 consumer advocacy groups has sent Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler a letter urging the agency to fully embrace its new role as an overseer of Internet privacy standards.

When the FCC changed how it classified broadband Internet in order to apply net neutrality rules to ISPs, it also gave itself the ability to police how those companies protect customers’ data. The letter asks the FCC to quickly apply that new jurisdiction by “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.”

In addition, the letter said, “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.”

Signatories to the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Watchdog, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, and the World Privacy Forum.

The privacy coalition also suggested that the new rules cover how companies notify the public—especially their customers—about data breaches, which are becoming more and more frequent as corporate security measures fail to keep up with increasingly sophisticated hackers.

“As adoption of broadband continues to accelerate and integrate across all aspects of our lives, the urgency to have clear privacy guidelines for providers of these services ratchets up significantly,” Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a statement.

The push to expand the FCC’s privacy rulemaking under the 2015 Open Internet Order—which reclassified broadband as a Title II common-carrier service and opened the door to new areas of oversight—is sure to be controversial within the telecom industry, which is already suing the commission over the reclassification.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, declined to comment on the letter. USTelecom, another plaintiff, did not respond to a request for comment.

Matt Wood, the policy director at the civil-liberties group Free Press, said in a statement that new rules were needed to keep “the gatekeeper powers wielded by the cable and phone companies who connect us all” in check.

“Even though technology evolves,” he said, “people still need and deserve the safeguards and benefits of timeless common-carrier principles that prevent network gatekeepers from violating their rights.”

Photo via Mark Sebastian/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.