Privacy warriors plead with FCC to wield sword of net neutrality against snooping ISPs

Wheeler lobbied on new rules for broadband customer info

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been urged to put in place stronger protections for broadband subscribers' privacy.

A letter [PDF] written by a coalition of 59 activist groups from across America demands that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler fast-tracks proposed rules that would restrict the ways broadband service providers can collect and share information about people's web browsing habits and account details.

"As the role of the internet in the daily lives of consumers increases, this means an increased potential for surveillance," the letter reads.

"This can create a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices derived from data use."

Backers of the group, who include the ACLU, EFF and Center for Democracy and Technology, say that the FCC's newly-minted Title II classification of broadband services creates an opportunity for the commission to put tighter rules on how customer information can be handled and shared. The worry, the groups say, is that broadband carriers could sell collected data about user browsing habits to advertisers, or use the data to target ads, without their knowledge.

The FCC gained additional authority over broadband providers last year when, amidst outcry from telco companies and some members of Congress, it opted to reclassify broadband services as Title II carriers in order to enforce net neutrality provisions.

The signees of the letter, who believe Title II can also be used to protect privacy, now ask that the FCC put out a draft as soon as possible on rules that would restrict carriers' collecting and sharing user data without first obtaining permission.

"The proposed rules should also provide for notice of data breaches, and hold broadband providers accountable for any failure to take suitable precautions to protect personal data collected from users," the letter reads.

"In addition, the rules should require broadband providers to clearly disclose their data collection practices to subscribers, and allow subscribers to ascertain to whom their data is disclosed."

The FCC has yet to issue a response to the letter. ®

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