FCC hands internet privacy duty over to FTC

By Tony Chan

The day after the Trump administration killed off an Obama-era internet privacy regulation, the US Federal Communications Commission has said it will offload that responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai applauded the invalidation of the rule, which required internet service providers to get explicit permission from customers before they can share or sell their data, describing it as “flawed” and “designed to benefit one group of favoured companies, not online consumers.” “American consumers’ privacy deserves to be protected regardless of who handles their personal information.

In order to deliver that consistent and comprehensive protection, the FCC will be working with the FTC to restore the FTC’s authority to police Internet service providers’ privacy practices,” Pai said. “We need to put America’s most experienced and expert privacy cop back on the beat. And we need to end the uncertainty and confusion that was created in 2015 when the FCC intruded in this space.”

According to government data, the FTC has been the chief federal agency on privacy policy and enforcement since the 1970s, when it began enforcing one of the first federal privacy laws – the Fair Credit Report Act. “The agency uses law enforcement, policy initiatives, and consumer and business education to protect consumers’ personal information and ensure that they have the confidence to take advantage of the many benefits of the ever-changing marketplace,” according to the FTC site. In the technology space, the FTC is considering a ‘do not track’ mechanism to protect consumer privacy online.

However, the proposal was first tabled in 2010 and the Commission latest update in the area notes that it “has not voted yet on whether to support this idea, and it is still considering public comments on the report.” The decision received positive support from the CTIA, which represents the mobile industry in America. “Every aspect of our mobile-first economy and 5G future requires consumer trust. Longstanding privacy policies of wireless carriers remain unchanged and intact,” said CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker.

“CTIA commends president Trump for restoring a technology-neutral framework to privacy and data security that will help ensure careful, consistent treatment of consumer data by all companies.” Prior to the official dissolution of the rules, US carriers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon all issued similarly assuring public statements. All three operators asserted that they did not sell their customers’ web browsing history and had had privacy policies in place even before the now defunct FCC privacy order, which did not impact those policies.


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