House Committee Hearing on FCC Privacy Rules

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(June 17, 2016 – Jennifer Ortega) On June 14, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing, entitled "FCC Overreach: Examining the Proposed Privacy Rules," intending to investigate the privacy rulemaking proposal issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 10.

The FCC's potential regulations would limit how broadband internet service providers (ISPs) can use certain customer data. If finalized in their current form, the rules would require ISPs to get explicit permission from their customers to use or share their information. The new rules would also mandate that ISPs implement data security requirements, including risk management practices, strong customer authentication procedures, and personnel training practices, as well as data breach notification requirements. Data needed to deliver services the customer is paying for would be exempt from consent requirements, and companies would still be able to advertise to customers about products that are similar to those they are already receiving.

Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), said in his opening statement, "When the FCC overreaches, it's normally bad news for consumers and the economy. Consumers deserve to be protected and the FCC's privacy approach simply misses the mark." Many of the concerns from opponents of the rules center on the idea that the FCC proposal only sets rules for some members of the "internet ecosystem."

In a bipartisan letter to the FCC, several members of the Energy and Commerce Committee shared their concerns about the proposal. They commended the FCC privacy framework, writing that the "holistic and consistent approach struck the right balance: consumers' use of Internet services and applications has continued to increase and consumers' privacy has been protected." Nonetheless, they argued the FCC's potential regulations have an inherent problem - their "inconsistent treatment of consumer data could actually undermine consumers' confidence in their use of the Internet due to uncertainty regarding the protections that apply to their online activities." The letter urged the FCC to consider a more balanced approach in order to better meet consumers’ privacy expectations.

Jen Ortega serves as a consultant to EDUCAUSE on federal policy and government relations. She has worked with EDUCAUSE since 2013 and assists with monitoring legislative and regulatory proposals across a range of policy areas, including cybersecurity, data privacy, e-learning, and accessibility.