If consumer groups have their way, the Federal Communications Commission could wade into the privacy waters in the broadband area—and soon.
Dozens of advocacy groups petitioned the agency to adopt privacy rules regulating the use of consumer information by broadband providers. "Providers of broadband Internet access service, including fixed and mobile telephone, cable, and satellite television providers, have a unique role in the online ecosystem," a total of 59 organizations wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "Their 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."
As the role of the Internet has continued to grow in the lives of consumers, this potential for increased surveillance could "create a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices derived from data use," the groups argued. "By contrast, commonsense protections may lead to a broader adoption and use of the Internet, as individuals gain confidence in conducting everyday business and exploring new services online."
The organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Citizen—noted that the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission positioned the FCC to take on the role as the "brawnier cop on the beat" with regard to broadband providers.
What kind of rules would the groups like to see? The letter included a wish list, with requests that broadband providers must notify consumers of data breaches, that broadband providers be held accountable for any failure to take suitable precautions to protect personal data collected from users, and that their data collection practices be clearly disclosed to subscribers so they can ascertain to whom their data is disclosed.
Further, the organizations called on the FCC to require that broadband providers obtain affirmative consent before collecting and sharing the personal data of subscribers for purposes other than providing Internet access service. It "strongly urged the FCC to move forward as quickly as possible on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing strong rules to protect consumers."
To read the letter to the FCC, click here.
Why it matters: The FCC's controversial decision to attempt another go-around at net neutrality regulations included the authority to regulate broadband providers with regard to consumer privacy. Chairman Wheeler has indicated that the Commission intends to address the privacy practices of broadband providers in the coming months. Not everyone is in agreement on the need for new privacy rules, however, with the telecom industry taking the position that existing privacy requirements are sufficient.