FCC chair rejects Sinclair-Tribune merger
FCC votes to block internet privacy rule
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday voted 2-1 along party lines to block a new internet privacy rule from taking effect.
The rule would have required internet service providers to take more stringent steps to protect consumers' personal data.
The provision was part of a larger set of broadband privacy rules passed by the FCC in October under the Obama administration and set to go into effect on Thursday.
The measure called for broadband providers to take "reasonable" measures to ensure the security of customer data. But critics said that it would have set up different requirements than privacy rules issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen issued a joint statement arguing that privacy should be returned to the FTC's jurisdiction.
"We still believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers' privacy and data security practices should be returned to the FTC, the nation's expert agency with respect to these important subjects," they said. "All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency."
The temporary stay will be in place until the FCC votes on a reconsideration of the rules.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, blasted the vote on Wednesday, issuing a dissent.
"If a provider simply decides not to adequately protect a customer's information and does not notify them when a breach inevitably occurs, there will be no recompense as a matter of course," she wrote.
Clyburn also cited a court decision last year that hamstrung the FTC's ability to enforce privacy protections, and she argued that there is now no agency to ensure consumers' data is secure.
The vote was immediately met with praise from service providers and industry groups, while privacy and consumer advocates condemned the decision.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has been a fierce critic of Pai since he became chair, framed the move as an assault on privacy rights and the 2015 net neutrality rules.
"Chairman Pai has fired his opening salvo in the war on the Open Internet Order, and broadband privacy protections are the first victim," Markey said in a statement. "This carve out for the broadband industry will make consumers' information more vulnerable to breaches and unauthorized use. This suspension is just a preview of coming attractions."
NCTA, a trade group representing internet service providers, countered that consumers will benefit from a uniform set of privacy protections.
"Today's FCC action to issue a temporary stay of the data security regulation is a welcome recognition that consumers benefit most when privacy protections are consistently applied throughout the internet ecosystem," the group said in a statement.
"As service providers, our companies are committed to providing a quality Internet experience that protects the security of personal information, and we will continue to operate with that commitment as the FTC and FCC pursue further action to harmonize online privacy protections."
When the FCC passed its landmark net neutrality rules two years ago this week, it reclassified internet service providers as common carriers.
In August 2016, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the FTC could not regulate service providers like AT&T when it came to privacy issues.
Updated: 6:20 p.m.