Today, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved far-reaching new information privacy rules that will govern how providers of broadband Internet access service collect, use, protect, and share data from their subscribers. These new rules, which were adopted by a 3 to 2 vote, are intended to fill a consumer protection gap that was created by the FCC’s reclassification of broadband Internet access service (or BIAS) as a Title II common carrier service as part of the 2015 Open Internet Order (the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not have jurisdiction over common carriers acting as common carriers). Although the full text of the today’s privacy order (the Order) has not yet been released, the agency provided a general outline of its new rules.
Today’s privacy rules are the result of a process that began in March, when the FCC circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on implementing Section 222’s privacy obligations for broadband providers. Section 222 was applied to broadband providers as part of the 2015 Open Internet Order, but until today’s Order the precise privacy obligations of broadband providers was not clear. The FCC’s NPRM had initially proposed sweeping new rules that in many ways went beyond the existing privacy framework of the FTC. For example, while the FTC has long embraced a unified, “technology neutral” approach applied equally to ISPs, websites, and all other participants in the Internet ecosystem, the FCC’s proposals focused solely on regulating ISPs. Moreover, whereas the FTC’s approach historically has turned on the sensitivity of the information being collected, used, or shared, the FCC’s initial proposal would have treated all forms of customer information equally, whether the information was a Social Security number or merely the customer’s first and last name. And while the FTC imposes a reasonableness standard for data security practices, the FCC proposed that broadband providers be required to “appropriately calibrate” their security practices to the data being collected, without an apparent reasonableness standard. The FTC, in its comments to the FCC in this proceeding, suggested changes to the FCC’s proposal that would bring the two privacy regimes into greater harmony. Although the FCC did not accept all of these changes—and never wavered from its focus on regulating only ISPs—the final product is significantly changed from what we first saw in the NPRM. Continue Reading