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FCC Chairman: Regulators to Undo Obama’s Damage on Internet Privacy

WASHINGTON – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday said that the FCC hopes to restore the strength of internet privacy laws, which the commission believes the Obama administration fractured.

Pai’s comments came two days after President Trump repealed the FCC’s broadband privacy rules passed in October. The rules would have required that internet service providers, or ISPs, ask before collecting sensitive information – such as Social Security numbers and information about finances, health and location.

Public backlash erupted last month when the repeal bill passed in the House and Senate. Opponents attacked Republicans who sided with the ISPs, claiming they were allowing private consumer information to be blindly sold to third parties.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute, Pai pointed to his April 4 op-ed in the Washington Post penned with Acting Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission Maureen Ohlhausen titled “No, Republicans didn’t just strip away your Internet privacy rights.” The two chairmen argued that there has been a “wildfire of misinformation” surrounding the repeal, and added that service providers have no plans to sell individual browsing histories to third parties. Pai and Ohlhausen said the repeal clears the way to reestablish privacy laws that the Obama administration dismantled.

In 2015, the FCC approved a set of net neutrality rules with the purpose of blocking ISPs from throttling speeds of websites for financial gain. The change meant that ISPs were now classified as public utilities, which stripped the FTC of its authority over online privacy and moved the responsibility to the FCC, which had no experience in governing the issue. This change created a gap and regulation, and the FCC saw about filling it by creating the new internet privacy rules it adopted in October.

“[W]e’ll be working together to restore the FTC’s authority to police ISPs’ privacy practices,” the op-ed reads. “We need to put the nation’s most experienced and expert privacy cop back on the beat, and we need to end the uncertainty and confusion that was created in 2015 when the FCC intruded in this space.”

Pai said Wednesday that the bottom line is simple – the FCC thinks that consumers have a uniform expectation of privacy when they go online, regardless of the classification of the entity that handles their information.

“We want that information to be protected in a consistent and comprehensive way, and so the Federal Trade Commission prior to 2015 had done a good job of making sure the online economy protected consumers,” he said.

Pai also announced that the FCC plans to establish a new Office of Economics and Data to weigh in on the issue of internet privacy. The goal, Pai said, is to have a working group develop a plan of action to be submitted for commission review by this summer. The FCC then hopes to have the office operating by the end of the year, with economists and data experts recruited from around the agency.