FCC pressed to start drafting Internet privacy rules

More than 50 digital rights and consumer groups are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to start drafting Internet privacy rules “as quickly as possible.”

The groups sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler arguing that increased monitoring by companies that provide Internet service can “have a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices.”

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“Their position as Internet gatekeepers gives them a comprehensive view of consumer behavior and until now privacy protections for consumers using those services have been unclear,” the groups wrote in the letter sent Wednesday. 

The letter was signed by groups like The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Consumer Watchdog and many others. 

When Internet service was reclassified last year as a telecommunications service, the FCC took on oversight of how Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers handle privacy. But the agency has not begun drafting privacy rules.

Wheeler had set a fall deadline to begin the privacy rules, but that slipped into 2016. In November, he said the rule-making process could get started in the next several months

In their letter on Wednesday, the digital rights and consumer groups urged the commission to adopt rules to protect consumers from having their personal data shared or collected by Internet service providers without their explicit consent. They also want those companies to clearly disclose their data collection. 

In addition, they said the privacy rules should require companies to disclose data breaches and hold them accountable for a failure to protect against an attack. 

Many opponents of net neutrality rules have criticized the FCC’s new privacy mandate, accusing the agency of usurping authority from the Federal Trade Commission, which had policed the space for years. Opponents have also criticized the FCC’s vague privacy guidance for Internet service providers. 

Last year, the FCC released an advisory that said it would initially judge providers on whether they are "taking reasonable, good-faith steps" to comply with the privacy provision of communications law, until tailored rules for the Internet can be developed.

It also recently signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the FTC on privacy.