OTI Calls on the FCC to Protect the Online Privacy of Broadband Consumers

Consumers are being forced to choose between privacy and Internet access, says new report

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the Open Technology Institute at New America released The FCC’s Role in Protecting Online Privacy, a new report encouraging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to protect the online privacy of broadband users. Because of their role as gatekeepers to the Internet, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have access to a huge amount of detailed information about their customers: where and when they access the Internet and from what number of devices, what sites they are visiting, and who they are emailing, as well as the information contained in unencrypted online communications. This data is highly valuable and sensitive, and such information could easily be used to determine a consumer’s job and health status, political affiliations, and other confidential data contained within their email correspondence. The FCC has an important role to play in creating consumer-friendly privacy rules for broadband that govern how ISPs protect consumer data. This report comes out a day after OTI and a group of 59 consumer advocates and organizations released a letter calling for the FCC to begin a rulemaking process on online privacy protections for broadband consumers.  

OTI’s new report lays out several recommendations for what consumer-friendly privacy rules for broadband might look like:

  • Set out an inclusive definition of Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI).

  • Require “opt-in” subscriber consent for non-service-related-uses of CPNI.

  • Include baseline requirements for data security and breach notification.

  • Include a clear process for consumer complaints.

  • Bar ISPs from charging subscribers a premium for baseline privacy protections.

The following quote can be attributed to Sarah J. Morris, Senior Policy Counsel at the Open Technology Institute:

ISPs act as the gatekeepers to the Internet for millions of Americans, giving them unparalleled access to rich and revealing consumer data. As such, we need a privacy framework through which the FCC and the public can hold ISPs accountable for misuse of a consumer’s personal data, whether it is through unauthorized sharing or selling of the data, or identifying and storing a user’s Internet search patterns. OTI’s new report, and the letter from the coalition of privacy organizations released yesterday, demonstrate that the time is right for the FCC to take action on this important issue.