Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) circulated a draft of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to clarify the privacy obligations of Broadband Internet access service providers. OTI has been an active supporter of broadband privacy rules, most recently publishing The FCC’s Role in Protecting Online Privacy in January. More information about the FCC’s proposal, which offers broadband consumers choice, transparency, and security, can be found in this fact sheet. The proposal is on the agenda for the FCC’s March 31 Open Meeting.
The following quote can be attributed to Sarah Morris, Senior Counsel and Director of Open Internet Policy for New America’s Open Technology Institute:
As gatekeepers to the Internet, broadband providers are uniquely situated to capture detailed information about the websites their customers visit and the applications they use, while the customers are left at the whim of those intrusive practices. The Communications Act recognizes the sensitivity of the provider-customer relationship and directs the FCC to ensure that providers protect the information that they collect as a result of that relationship. When the FCC reclassified Internet access as a Title II service last year, it correctly recognized that broadband providers, like telephone providers, should be subject to the privacy protections under Title II.
Today, the FCC took the important next step of outlining how Title II protections could apply to broadband providers. This approach is consistent with its decision to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers and the correct recognition that consumers should never have to make the choice between going online and having baseline privacy protections in place as they do so. A clear privacy framework developed under the longstanding authority granted to the FCC under Section 222 of the Communications Act will benefit Internet users, ensuring that the power asymmetry between customers and their Internet service providers is mitigated by consumer privacy protections. We commend the Chairman for initiating this proceeding.
The following can be attributed to Laura Moy, Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown Law and co-director of the school’s Institute for Public Representation, which represents OTI on the issue:
By monitoring the traffic that passes through their hands, broadband providers—as network gatekeepers—can learn detailed information about their customers’ most private activities. Some opponents of strong privacy rules have argued that consumers should rely on encryption, not federal rules, to protect their privacy. That ignores the tremendous amount of highly sensitive online traffic that is not encrypted, and even when traffic is encrypted, the protection is incomplete—broadband providers can still learn a great deal about their customers’ online activities.
Recognizing the unique ability of network gatekeepers to view rich and sensitive information about customers’ activities over the network, Congress directed the FCC to protect our communications networks with some of the strongest privacy provisions on the books. Strong communications privacy protections are essential both to ensure that consumers can trust these networks, and so that network gatekeepers cannot use private customer information to give themselves an unfair competitive advantage. We’re pleased to see that the Commission is taking seriously its statutory mandate to closely protect telecommunications privacy. Given the central role of broadband in 21st century education, medical care, employment, and more, broadband customers must not be forced to choose between access and privacy.