FCC puts data security protections on hold

Chairman Ajit Pai followed through on a promise to stop a new rule from taking effect, one which would have required internet service providers to take steps to protect consumer personal data.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai (center) is now the new chairman of the agency. Mignon Clyburn (right) and Michael O'Rielly (left) remain as commissioners.


As expected the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted 2-1 along party lines to stop a new data security rule from taking effect.

The rule would have required internet service providers to take "reasonable" measures to protect consumers' personal data.

It was part of a bigger set of privacy regulation, approved by the FCC in October, that's supposed to protect consumers' sensitive personal information online. The rules have been controversial because they establish stricter requirements for broadband and wireless companies than they do for other internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, which also collect user information and are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai signaled last week his intention for the full FCC to vote on pausing the rollout of the rule. He and acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen issued a joint statement arguing that the FTC, and not the FCC, should regulate all privacy and data security and privacy practices online.

"All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency," they said in the statement.

In January, several telecom and cable industry groups filed petitions challenging the rules. The data security rule was supposed to go into effect on March 2. Today's vote puts the new rules on hold until the FCC votes on a reconsideration of them.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the only Democrat on the commission, criticized the move in a statement. She called the move a "proxy" for gutting the FCC's full set of privacy regulation, and stated that consumers would be left vulnerable.

"If a provider simply decides not to adequately protect a customer's information and does not notify them when a breach inevitably occurs, there will be no recompense as a matter of course," Clyburn wrote.

This is the latest move by the Republican-led FCC to kill controversial regulations pushed by former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler. Pai has already closed consideration of rules to reform the cable set-top box market. He also reversed several other consumer-protection orders, reports and proceedings that were adopted in the final weeks of Wheeler's FCC. This included telling nine companies they won't be allowed to participate in the federal Lifeline program. Lifeline's purpose is to provide low-cost broadband access to low-income consumers. Pai wants to reverse these orders and reports because they were decreed at the last minute by a departing administration.

Meanwhile, Pai has already begun to take steps to dismantle net neutrality. At the FCC's open meeting last week, he led the vote to expand the number of companies that receive exemptions to parts of the net neutrality rules.

In opposition, Democrats in the Senate, including Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Al Franken of Minnesota, have vowed to fight to protect the privacy and net neutrality rules. In a statement, Markey said this was just the beginning of Pai's efforts to dismantle many consumer protections.

"Chairman Pai has fired his opening salvo in the war on the Open Internet Order, and broadband privacy protections are the first victim," he said. "This carve out for the broadband industry will make consumers' information more vulnerable to breaches and unauthorized use."

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