Consumer groups: FCC should not hold back on Internet privacy

Consumer and civil liberty groups are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to not hold back when developing its new Internet privacy rules.

The groups pushed back Monday at Internet service providers (ISPs), who recently sent a letter to the FCC that said the commission should not stray too far from the privacy framework created by other agencies. 

“In light of the increasingly pervasive tracking practices of ISPs, it is imperative that the FCC take this opportunity to exercise the full extent of its rulemaking authority to protect consumer privacy,” the groups wrote in a letter

The letter was signed by a dozen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, the Open Technology Institute, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Consumer Watchdog. 

When the FCC reclassified broadband with its net neutrality rules last year, it took over the privacy regulation of ISPs, like Comcast and Verizon. The commission is soon expected to start seeking comment on detailed rules. 

Decisions will have to be made about what information should be private, how companies get consent from customers to share that information and how to handle data breaches.

There is no defined privacy enforcement agency, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has historically policed the privacy practices of ISPs and other businesses. However, that authority is usually limited to probing whether companies live up to their own self-imposed privacy promises, according to the consumer groups. 

“The invasive and ubiquitous tracking practices of ISPs underscore the imperative for the FCC to exercise the full extent of its rulemaking authority to protect consumer privacy,” according to the letter. “As it stands, the Federal Trade Commission is simply not equipped to provide meaningful protections for consumer privacy for numerous reasons.”

Some of the largest trade groups representing Internet service providers have recently said they want the FCC to stick with a “flexible” framework that will harmonize with the FTC. They have also asked the commission to resist adopting tentative conclusions before hearing from all sides during the public comment period.