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Senate Dems press FCC to adopt strong privacy rules for ISPs

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

A group of eight Senate Democrats plus independent presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (Vt.) are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to put in place strong consumer privacy protections for broadband service providers.

The letter sent Wednesday comes as the FCC begins to figure out how to apply the privacy provision it adopted when the agency reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers. Part of Title II requires common carriers to protect customer proprietary network information, or CPNI.

The FCC is expected to begin a rule making to address ISP privacy later this year. Many in the online industry are worried that the FCC will go too far and encroach on the Federal Trade Commission, which was considered the de facto privacy copy until the FCC passed its open Internet order.

The FCC has already advised broadband providers to take “reasonable, good-faith steps” to comply with the law and employ “effective privacy protections in line with their privacy policies and core tenets of basic privacy protections.”  The vagueness of that privacy guideline has triggered criticism for FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

In the meantime, the Senators have a few suggestions for chairman Tom Wheeler to consider.

“The FCC should work to animate new forms of technology, including broadband Internet access service, with time-tested American values, including the right to privacy,” the Senators wrote.

In the letter, the Senators urge chairman Tom Wheeler adopt a comprehensive definition of CPNI which would include a consumer’s Internet data usage, online activity, and broadband service payments. They also ask Wheeler to require ISPs to obtain express permission from customers before using and sharing consumer data, put in place strong data security measures, and notify consumers in the event of a data breach. Finally, the Senators urge the FCC to create a clear complaint process at the agency and at the ISPs for consumers who believe their privacy has been violated.

The letter was signed by  Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), Patric Leahy (Vt.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.)  and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)