ACLU: FCC Needs Strong Broadband Privacy Rules

The American Civil Liberties Union is all for the FCC's proposal to apply new rules to broadband privacy.

In comments on the FCC's proposal, the ACLU associated itself with comments of the Consumer Federation of America and 17 other organizations, but said it wanted to file separate comments to emphasize several points. That included emphasizing that they think ISPs are the privacy threats and should be treated differently from edge providers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the FCC can't regulate edge provider privacy and the broadband privacy proposal he offered up would hold ISPs to a tougher standard, requiring opt in permission from subs to use their info for third parties, a limitation not put on edge-provider data collectors and marketers.

But the ACLU appears fine with that disparate treatment. It says ISPs "wish to grab short-term profits by eavesdropping on communications, as they look jealously at booming online companies such as Google and Facebook, as well as an entire ecology of online advertising companies, which are enjoying a boom at the moment. But the broadband providers are clearly covered by the protections for those communicating over common carriers that is afforded by [Sec.] 222 [Title II], and the edge providers are not. And there is a fundamental difference between the edge destinations that people choose to use online, and can abandon for a competitor virtually at the

click of a mouse, and the internet infrastructure itself. BIAS providers have the potential to monitor not just one area of a customer’s internet use, but all of them."

ACLU concludes that "companies" are looking to "exploit every crack in the regulatory protections to increase revenues." But it says that even conceding the "prevalence of privacy invasions among certain edge providers" should not be used to " justify a betrayal of legally clear, culturally deep, and historically longstanding protection for privacy in our essential communications infrastructure."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.