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New FCC Chairman Plans To Block Privacy Regulations


I'm Audie Cornish with a look at online privacy in this week's All Tech Considered. When we surf the web, we leave behind a trail of data about ourselves - who we are, what sites we land on. In a moment, we'll hear about an experiment to help people regain control of the information they share both knowingly and unknowingly online.


First, the Federal Communications Commission last year told companies that provide Internet connections that they have to get people's permission before they take their online data and sell it. That might never go into effect, though, with Republicans now in control. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Maybe the first thing we should point out is that the Internet service providers, ISPs, like Comcast and Verizon don't like these FCC regulations. Their point is that the other big internet companies like Google and Facebook play by a different, less-restrictive set of rules even though they have access to a lot of the same data as the ISPs. Google and Facebook are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, not the Federal Communications Commission.

Former Congressman Rick Boucher is with the Internet Innovation Alliance, an advocacy group for broadband access. Boucher says there shouldn't be two sets of privacy requirements for two types of companies in the first place.

RICK BOUCHER: My view is that the consumer is better off if we have one unified set of privacy requirements and it applies across the entire Internet ecosystem to the local companies like Comcast or AT&T or Verizon as well as to the companies that supply information like Facebook or Amazon or Google.

NAYLOR: So here's where we stand. Starting as soon as next month, Internet providers will have to ask their subscribers for permission to use their data. Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona says he plans to introduce a measure to kill what he calls the unnecessary and confusing regulation altogether.

But consumer groups say the rule is very necessary to protect the privacy of Internet users. On a conference call with reporters today, ACLU attorney Nina Singh Guliani said it's hard enough for most folks to safeguard their data as it is.

NINA SINGH GULIANI: And anyone who's ever tried to call Comcast or another large provider can attest to simply how frustrating and difficult it is to even get basic information about how their private information is being treated.

NAYLOR: Congressional Democrats vow a fight to keep the FCC rules. Here's Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

ED MARKEY: If the Republicans think that they're going to be able to roll back all of these protections without a huge fight, they are sadly mistaken. This battle is going to be historic. And at the end of the day, the American people are going to want their privacy protected.

NAYLOR: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already begun to chip away at the new rules, saying he'll move to block one part before it takes effect Thursday. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.