Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

We'd Get Unprecedented Internet Privacy Under This New FCC Proposal

The Federal Communication Commission's proposed rules would place stronger protections between Internet service providers and their customers.

We'd Get Unprecedented Internet Privacy Under This New FCC Proposal
Getty Images / Mark Wilson

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed new rules for Internet service providers that would give Internet users unprecedented privacy protection.

Unprecedented, because last year's reclassification of ISPs under Title II gives the FCC more regulatory control than it's ever had. This would be the first time the FCC makes official tweaks to provider privacy practices.

The proposal says customers deserve choice when it comes to the information they share and transparency in how ISPs use that data, and should expect ISPs will handle that information securely.

ISPs could use customer data to make business decisions and market their own services and partner services, but customers could opt out of any such advertising. And customers would have to opt in to allow ISPs to use the data for anything else.

The rules would apply a standard set of rigorous security practices. ISPs would be required to train security staff and notify customers, the FCC and even the FBI in the case of serious data breaches.

The proposal doesn't cover issues of encryption or government surveillance. That's a different discussion. But there's plenty here to keep stakeholders busy.

Like the fact ISPs are Title II carriers in the first place. They've sued to overturn that decision, but the outcome is still pending.

AT&T has decried so-called "asymmetric regulation," wherein "the FCC appears to want to place its thumb on the scale in favor of Internet companies and against the companies that invest in broadband infrastructure in this country."

See, if the FCC's proposal goes forward, it would likely trip up AT&T's practice of inspecting unsecured Web traffic on its gigabit connections so it can send customers targeted ads.

And there's dissent within the FCC itself. Commissioner Michael O'Rielly — who at the time said he had yet to read the proposal — nonetheless criticized it as a "reckless approach to an important topic, especially where it clearly lacks expertise, personnel, or understanding."

The FCC will vote on the proposal March 31. If it passes, the rules will be finalized after a public comment period.

This video includes clips from AT&T and C-SPAN and images from Getty Images and AT&T.