FCC Data Privacy Rules Were Defunct Before Congressional Vote

NEWS ANALYSIS: Despite predictions of doom in the general news media, the reality is that Federal Communications Commission privacy rules were never in effect in the first place.

FCC Data Privacy Rules

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Federal Communications Commission had already voted to withdraw data privacy rules for Internet Service Providers well before Congress voted to overturn them.

The frantic reports in the general news media about a U.S. House of Representatives vote on March 28 to terminate Federal Communications Commission rules concerning internet users' data privacy nearly rose to the level of fake news.

Those reports claim that a whole series of protections granted by the FCC are being taken away, and that Internet users in the US are losing privacy protections. That’s not correct.

Those reports are incorrect is because the rules never took effect. They were scheduled to go into effect in April, but the FCC put them on hold. The only actual change is that now they will never take effect, whereas once it was possible that the FCC could change its and withdraw the rules on its own.

Let's look back on how these ill-fated rules were created. One of the final actions by the outgoing FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler was to create a set of new privacy protections that covered internet service providers. Those privacy protections were essentially a power grab by the FCC to take over administration of privacy rules that the Federal Trade Commission had always administered.

Once Wheeler left office with the outgoing democratic administration, the remaining FCC members voted to prevent the rules from taking effect. The vote by the House and the Senate to stop the rules only ensures that some future FCC can’t impose them again.  

Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained how it came about in a statement released after the vote by Congress. “Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies,” Pai said.

“Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect.”

It’s also important to note that nothing has changed in regards to your ISP selling your browsing history or other information. Previous actions by the FCC against carriers and ISPs that shared privacy information such as social security numbers are still in effect. In addition, they are still required to allow you to opt out of such sharing and they still need to make it easy for you to find out how to do that.

If you’re worried that your ISP might ignore your request to opt-out of sharing, then you can use a Virtual Private Network or the Tor browser. There are versions of Tor for Windows, macOS and Linux. Using Tor and following the included guidelines will keep your ISP and pretty much anyone else from tracking your activities.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...