Racial Justice, Civil Liberties and Consumer Rights Groups Urge Congress to Reject Industry Push to Undermine FCC Privacy Protections

Contact Info: 

Timothy Karr, 201-533-8838

WASHINGTON — On Friday, a coalition of 19 racial justice, consumer protection, civil liberties, and privacy groups submitted a letter urging congressional leaders to reject calls for using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to undermine online privacy protections.

The broadband and advertising lobbies are pressuring Congress to use the CRA to overturn the broadband-privacy order the FCC passed in October. The FCC’s rules, which give internet users more choice over whether and how broadband providers use private information, recognize that companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have congressionally mandated obligations to protect customer privacy and obtain consent before sharing personal data.

“Not satisfied with trying to appeal the rules of the agency, industry lobbyists have asked Congress to punish internet users by way of restraining the FCC, when all the agency did was implement Congress’ own directive in the 1996 [Telecommunications] Act,” the letter reads. “Without these rules, ISPs could use and disclose customer information at will. The result could be extensive harm caused by breaches or misuse of data.”

Signers of the letter are Access Now, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, Free Press Action Fund, May First/People Link, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, the Online Trust Alliance, Privacy Rights Clearing House and Public Knowledge.

If it passes Congress, the CRA against the privacy rules could preclude the FCC from adopting similar regulations — in direct conflict with Congress’ clear intention under Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act, which mandates that internet service providers protect their customers’ privacy.

The coalition letter is available here: https://goo.gl/3LM4Ia

Free Press Action Fund Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

“The FCC made tremendous strides toward giving internet users more control over how broadband providers sell or share their personal information. The agency’s October ruling is built on the clear laws in the Telecommunications Act, which an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Congress enacted to protect ordinary Americans against the predatory practices of companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

“In a dishonest and hypocritical move, these same companies and their lobbyists are claiming that the privacy protections will somehow harm internet users. Clearly that’s a lie. The companies that carry all of our speech online have no business profiting from the information they gather without our consent. These companies and lobbyists know that, but they’re fighting tooth and nail against simply allowing people a choice when it comes to safeguarding their most private conversations and decisions.

“The cable, telecom, wireless and advertising lobbies’ request for CRA intervention is just another shameless industry attempt to overturn rules that empower internet users and hamstring the agency’s ability to protect consumer data going forward. Congress should stand with internet users and reject this request out of hand. Going along with it would allow these companies to gather vast troves of private information and exploit that data for profit without their customers’ informed consent.”

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