Federal regulators on Monday will move to stop certain privacy regulations from going into effect that were designed to safeguard consumers’ personal information from hackers and criminals, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
The stay by the Federal Communications Commission will release broadband companies such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T from previously approved rules requiring them to adopt “reasonable” security measures protecting Social Security numbers, Web browsing history and other information belonging to their customers. Without that portion of the rules, Internet providers will not need to implement consumer protections that prevent the unauthorized release of Americans’ personal data.
The security rules were set to go into effect early next month. But following petitions from numerous industry groups, the FCC is now attempting to put the data security rules on ice.
An emailed statement from the FCC Friday appeared to confirm the proposed stay, with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai signaling he hoped the agency’s two Republicans and its lone Democrat could agree to vote on the petitions before the data security rules go into effect on March 2. But Pai does not need a formal vote to initiate a stay of the data security provisions, according to the FCC’s bylaws; policy analysts say he can authorize officials to suspend those aspects of the rules independently. In its statement, the FCC indicated that Pai would be willing to take that step.
The affected regulations are part of a much broader package of privacy rules, approved in the waning days of the Obama administration, that forced Internet providers to honor some of the same consumer protections that govern legacy telephone service. Privacy advocates hailed the rules’ passage as a significant victory. But now, a key portion of that package appears to be in jeopardy – and more may be at stake.
Pai and other Republicans have vocally criticized the overall privacy rules, arguing they establish a double-standard that treats Internet providers more harshly than Web companies such as Google or Facebook, which also rely on consumer data to sell advertising and drive their businesses.
“Chairman Pai believes that the best way to protect the online privacy of American consumers is through a comprehensive and uniform regulatory framework,” the FCC said in its statement. “All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another.”
Some of the nation’s most powerful trade organizations have petitioned the FCC to roll back the bulk of the privacy rules. The group includes associations representing the cable industry, the telecom industry and the cellular industry, along with some consumer technology groups. The petitions argue that the FCC’s rules cover far too much ground, and that they should be scaled back.
Although the FCC is currently moving to block a small slice of the rules, it may still decide to overturn the rest of them later in response to the petitions.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Brian Fung