Last night, President Trump quietly signed away our broadband privacy protections. The rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October 2016, were years in the making, but only took a month for Congress and President Trump to dismantle. This unprecedented situation merits a further review.
One significant threat to the public interest under the new administration that is receiving increased attention is broadband privacy for consumers. Last week, Senator Jeff Flake and 21 cosponsors introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules. In late October, after over six months of deliberation, the FCC passed rules governing how Internet Service Providers use the personal information that they collect on their customers. Put simply, ISPs would be required to obtain opt-in consent before using anything sensitive like web browsing history, your location, financial information, and information relating to children.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission released a fact sheet summarizing proposed final rules that would significantly upgrade consumer broadband privacy protections. The final proposal varies from the framework set forth in the original proposal in one important respect. The FCC initially proposed requiring Internet Service Providers to obtain opt-out consent for first party use of customer information and opt-in consent for third party use of customer information. Instead, responding to industry lobbying, the FCC will adopt the framework originally developed by the Federal Trade Commission that requires opt-in consent for “sensitive” information, but requires subscribers to affirmatively opt out from the ISP using information designated “non-sensitive.”
In March of this year, the Center for Digital Democracy released a comprehensive report outlining the increasing use of subscriber data by Internet Service Providers and video providers. The report details the common practices of cable operators gathering their customers’ personal information, sharing and combining that information with third parties, and using it to target customers for advertising on an individual level.
Currently, the auto industry plans to use the spectrum for “Dedicated Short Range Communication” (DSRC), a device that talks to every other car with a DSRC unit (also referred to as “vehicle-2-vehicle” or “v2v” communication). According to auto companies, they can’t share the swath of spectrum given to them in the 5.9 GHz band, because it would endanger consumers. That simply is not the case.
In November 2014, Public Knowledge petitioned the Copyright Office for a number of exemptions to the prohibition against circumventing technological protection measures (i.e. “digital locks”) protecting copyrighted works under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
In August, CTIA – The Wireless Association, filed a Petition for Partial Reconsideration with the Federal Communications Commission challenging the Commission’s authority to protect the personal information of subscribers to the federal Lifeline program. If CTIA’s petition is granted, millions of low-income Americans could be at risk of identity theft and predatory marketing, just by virtue of participating in a federal program.