Last week, Congress held four hearings to investigate the Equifax data breach, which jeopardized the highly sensitive data of 145 millions Americans. The exposed consumer information includes social security numbers, prior addresses, student loans, credit card numbers, and other pieces of private data compiled into credit reports that determine if a consumer qualifies for employment, loans, or new lines of credit. For days, members of Congress questioned former Equifax CEO Richard Smith as to how the breach could have occurred and what steps the company was taking to protect consumers. Mr. Smith resigned in September after the extent of the breach was fully disclosed. During the hearings, he offered little in terms of solutions on how to protect consumers going forward, but his answers revealed significant problems with our current data security regime that Congress must address.
When people use the internet, they provide a vast amount of personal, often sensitive information. Ill-protected personal information can result in anything from predatory advertising to fraud. Consumers need strong rules and aggressive agencies to protect their online privacy. The Federal Communications Commission is the agency in charge of implementing and enforcing communications law and regulations. The FCC is ideally situated to protect consumers’ information on communications networks, considering its success in protecting subscribers’ privacy in other areas such as telephone and cable networks.
Ever since Congress repealed the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules, consumers have expressed outrage over their lack of privacy protections when accessing broadband networks. The FCC’s rules prevented broadband providers from sharing sensitive customer information without permission. Repealing these privacy rules left a significant gap in consumer protection in the internet ecosystem.
Today, Public Knowledge joined Consumer Federation of America, Center For Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of California, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in a letter urging Federal Trade Commission Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen to protect consumer privacy.