WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt rules giving internet users more choice over whether and how broadband providers use private information. The rules passed on a 3–2 vote, with Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voting for these strong but sensible privacy safeguards.
The vote is the culmination of a proceeding the FCC launched in March, building on the agency’s 2015 decision to reclassify broadband access as a telecom service under Title II of the Communications Act. That decision recognizes that internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have congressionally mandated obligations to protect customer privacy and obtain consent before sharing personal information.
Free Press Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“The FCC’s decision on privacy isn’t perfect, but it takes tremendous strides forward. It gives internet users far more control over how their personal information may be used by AT&T, Comcast and other carriers. That’s because under any sensible interpretation of the communications laws that govern the FCC, the companies that carry all of our speech online have no business profiting from all the information they gather without our consent.
“There may be more work to do to fine-tune the rules as the internet continues to develop. But today we congratulate the FCC’s majority for resisting last-ditch efforts from industry giants to water down these protections. Today’s rules simply give people more choice when it comes to safeguarding their most private conversations and decisions online.
“Thankfully, the FCC’s new order appears to define the sensitive-data information category broadly, offering higher levels of protection to all internet-user content and addresses. The rules didn’t take up the ISPs’ entirely unworkable and invasive suggestion to protect visits to some kinds of websites but not others. That industry-backed approach would have put companies like Verizon in the business of reading our messages first before deciding whether to protect them.
“The rules adopted today don’t impose an outright ban on harmful pay-for-privacy schemes, but they do keep the Commission in the mix. These protections allow the agency to keep a watchful eye on plans that would force users to make an impossible choice — whether to surrender all of their privacy just to get an internet connection. Today’s order also promises to take up early in 2017 the question of harmful mandatory-arbitration schemes imposed in ISP privacy policies. These are all big wins for internet users.”