Pallone Concerned White House Privacy Bill Could Weaken FCC

According to various sources, including a U.S. House member, the White House is preparing any day to unveil legislation for enforcing its privacy bill of rights that they say could undercut the FCC's Internet privacy oversight under new Title II regs.

Rep. Frank Pallone, ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Lawrence Strickling had confirmed the legislation's release was imminent.

Pallone said that he was concerned that the proposal would allow ISPs to get out from under FCC privacy oversight through self-regulatory mechanism at the Federal Trade Commission.

A source familiar with the White House proposal, at least as it stood before the privacy issue started getting some pushback, said that cable operators and others would have a self-regulatory alternative to government rules on customer personal information (CPNI) regarding not only broadband but phone and video customers.

Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge, who was a witness at the hearing, said he would be troubled if what Pallone was hearing about the bill was correct and that it could be an "enormous" problem.

According to sources, the White House might be rethinking that part of its bill given that the President has supported a Title II approach to FCC open Internet rules that would move some privacy oversight from the FTC to the FCC.

"I understand that the White House has put two and two together on this as people like Mr. Pallone have contacted the Administration, and there is hopefully some rethinking going on," said a source who is not a fan of the self-regulatory carve-out.

"We received information last summer about a previous version of the draft legislation," said Laura Moy, senior policy counsel with New America's Open Policy Institute. "Since then, we have been concerned that White House-backed legislation could allow carriers to opt out of Communications Act privacy provisions — some of the strongest federal privacy laws on the books. We saw an updated draft last week, and following that meeting, we remain very concerned."

Moy is also not enamored of the process. "We don't always see eye to eye with industry on consumer privacy issues, but one thing we agree on its that this process has been very frustrating," Moy said. "We asked to see or at least be briefed on the administration's bill in January when the President made his announcement, and were denied. It wasn't until last Friday — the week before the legislation was expected to drop — that we were finally allowed to look at the draft, and then only for an hour, with copies we weren't allowed to take with us."

Feb. 27 is apparently the self-imposed deadline for the White House to release the bill, but that could be pushed back if the White House is rethinking the approach. the President announced in advance of the State of the Union that a bill would be forthcoming in 45 days.

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.