The following statement can be attributed to Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Consumer Federation of America.
The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband internet privacy rules were historic; for the first time, Americans would have a real say in how personal information that can be gleaned from their online activities could be used or shared for commercial purposes. Poll after poll shows that this is something that the public has long desired. When Congress voted to take these rights away there was a swift and angry reaction across the country and political spectrum. Americans saw, correctly, that those who voted for repeal were siding with the big cable and telephone companies, the main internet service providers, instead of with the people. President Trump had an opportunity to restore Americans’ broadband internet privacy rights by vetoing SJR 34, but sadly failed to do so.
In the debate about these rules, there was been much misinformation. It is necessary to set the record straight:
• There is a fundamental difference between Internet service providers and other companies that collect individuals’ personal information. ISPs see everywhere we go and everything we do online that is not encrypted. We wouldn’t want the phone companies to listen in on our calls, or compile a list of who we call to sell to advertisers who would use that information to target us. The same is true for our online communications, but now there is nothing to stop our ISPs from doing so and profiting from our data, without having to ask for our consent.
• Leaving privacy to the Federal Trade Commission is not the solution. Other than the rules that Congress mandated to require parental consent to collect personal information online from children under age 13, the FTC has no rulemaking authority to protect Americans’ privacy. Removing the “common carrier exemption” to bring ISPs under the FTC’s jurisdiction would not change the agency’s inability to require them, or any other types of companies, to give Americans control over the use or sharing of their personal information.
• Had the FCC’s broadband privacy rules been left intact, there would have been a simple fix to ensure that other companies that collect personal information from Americans’ online activities would have to play by similar rules as the ISPs. Congress can enact legislation to require that.
By vetoing the repeal of the broadband privacy rules President Trump could have sent a powerful message that he heard Americans’ demands to have a real say over how their personal information is used and shared for commercial proses, and was willing to stand up for them. This fight is not over, however.
The Consumer Federation of America and the other organizations with which we work will continue to push for real privacy protections for Americans.