Experts weigh privacy against better internet in FCC proposal

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Tech experts struggled to find a compromise for the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to improve privacy rights for internet users during a contentious Senate committee meeting Tuesday.

Academics and tech advocates argued back and forth over the balance between digital privacy and broadband access during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation meeting, sparked by the controversial proposal, which could limit internet service providers’ access to users’ information but could also deal a blow to some consumers’ internet quality, according to Matthew Polka, American Cable Association president and CEO.

“It could cause a shift in resources in investment and redeployment,” Polka said. “This means less broadband, slower speeds, even angrier customers.”

The FCC proposes giving internet users additional tools to control and learn how internet service providers access or use their information. The change could result in more security and transparency for customers, the commission said.

The FCC owes consumers this right, said Paul Ohm, a professor at the Georgetown Law Center. Ohm fears a “database of ruin,” where a corporate database has access to at least one incredibly personal or damaging piece of information for every internet user.

He also fears internet providers overusing consumer information for marketing and advertising issues.

“The FCC’s proposed default rule is much simpler and comprehensible: no unexpected uses of your information,” Ohm said in his testimony. “To argue that this will increase rather than decrease consumer confusion not only defies good sense but also fails to give the consumer his or her due respect.”

But in doing so, the FCC would greatly add “burdensome and costly” restrictions on american with less access to the internet, Polka said, such as consumers in rural or poorer areas. 

“The breadth of data covered by the proposal, and the highly restrictive nature of the permissions regime employed by the FCC, creates a serious risk of unforeseen consequences that could adversely affect internet capabilities and operations as well as disrupt consumer expectations,” said Dean Garfield, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.

When the FCC released the proposed rules in March, they were quickly met with resistance. The FCC, however, has stood by its proposal.

“In the end, this proceeding isn’t about any particular company or practice,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “It’s about providing baseline protections for consumers.”

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Agencies, Cybersecurity, FCC, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Government IT News, Regulations & Oversight, Tech