FCC is still the privacy police, even without common carrier rules

9 March 2017 by Steve Blum
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Ajit Pai steered away from discussing the plans, or at least the intent, he has to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s classification of broadband as a common carrier service during his first congressional appearance as chairman yesterday. But he did indicate that the FCC might not be washing its hands of all responsibility for regulating what Internet service providers do with private customer information.

His appearance in front of the U.S. senate’s commerce, science, and transportation committee came two days after he met with Donald Trump and a day after the news broke that the president had re-appointed him to another five year term on the commission. Pai’s first term expires in June, although he could have kept his seat for another year and a half, or until someone else was appointed to take it. Trump can name someone else to the chair’s job anytime he pleases, but right now the way to bet is that Pai will keep it for the next four years.

According to reporting by Amir Nasr in Morning Consult, Pai told the committee that the FCC’s responsibility to oversee ISP privacy practices comes directly from federal law and does not depend on the FCC’s 2015 common carrier – aka network neutrality – decision…

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.)…today asked Pai what would happen if the FCC’s rules “suddenly went away,” and if the FCC would still be “obligated to police broadband privacy practices under Section 222 of the Communications Act?”

“That’s correct, carriers would still have their obligations under Section 222 in addition to other federal and state privacy data security and breach notification requirements,” Pai responded.

In the prepared statement that kicked off his testimony, Pai rehashed the talking points he’s been pushing in recent speeches to industry groups – more broadband deployment, fewer nitpicking rules for telecoms companies to follow and greater transparency in the FCC’s decision making process.