The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted 2-1 along party lines to block a new Internet privacy rule before it even takes effect. The rule would have required Internet service providers (ISPs) to take more stringent steps to protect consumers' personal data.
In October, the FCC adopted a rule to limit what ISPs can do with individuals’ private data. At the time, the rule was controversial, with two FCC commissioners dissenting. Now, one of the dissenters, Ajit Pai, is FCC chairman, who during the October vote said the rule was not fair to ISPs.
The rule essentially would have divided data into two groups: opt-in and opt-out. Any data considered sensitive, such as geographic location, web browsing history, app usage, and the content of users’ communications, would be put in the opt-in group, meaning that ISPs have to seek permission before selling, trading, or using the data, according to Consumer Reports. Anything that’s not on the specific list of opt-in data is opt-out data, so ISPs can use it however they want, but there must be a mechanism available for customers to choose not to have it sold or traded for advertising purposes.
The provision was part of a larger set of broadband privacy rules passed by the FCC in October and set to go into effect March 2. The measure called for broadband providers to take "reasonable" measures to ensure the security of customer data. But critics said it would have established different requirements from the privacy rules issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Pai and acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen issued a joint statement arguing that privacy should be returned to the FTC's jurisdiction, according to The Hill.
“We still believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices should be returned to the FTC, the nation’s expert agency with respect to these important subjects," the statement said. "All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency."
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, issued her dissent, stating: "If a provider simply decides not to adequately protect a customer’s information and does not notify them when a breach inevitably occurs, there will be no recompense as a matter of course."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was equally unhappy with the move, calling it an assault on privacy rights and the 2015 net neutrality rules.
“Chairman Pai has fired his opening salvo in the war on the Open Internet Order, and broadband privacy protections are the first victim," Markey said in a statement. "This … will make consumers’ information more vulnerable to breaches and unauthorized use.”