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FCC halts internet privacy requirements

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Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony From FCC Leaders On Proposed FCC Privacy Rules Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The FCC has halted a set of privacy rules that would have required internet providers to more responsibly handle your sensitive data.

Internet providers have been lobbying to overturn the entire set of privacy rules for a couple months now — in short, they don’t like that they’ll soon have to ask permission to share your web browsing habits.

And with today’s action, it seems that they’re likely to get their wish. The stricter consumer privacy protections aren’t yet in effect, and the data security portion that would have gone live tomorrow is now on hold. The commission doesn’t plan to implement the requirements until it gets a chance to revisit the entire set of rules.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s initial goal is to scale back the rules so that they match the Federal Trade Commission’s weaker privacy requirements. The FTC’s rules governed internet providers until net neutrality was put into place; the commission then passed its own set of privacy rules to replace them.

Pai argues that having separate rules governing ISPs and websites is confusing for consumers, so it’s better to just weaken the rules to match. “[Americans] shouldn’t have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected differently depending on which part of the Internet holds it,” Pai says in a joint statement with acting FTC chair Maureen Ohlhausen.

The commission also points out that “broadband providers have released a voluntary set of ‘ISP Privacy Principles’ that are consistent” with the FTC’s framework. So there you have it: broadband providers promised they’ll behave, so it’s all good.

In the long run, though, Pai would like to completely return privacy oversight to the FTC — which would require undoing Title II and net neutrality. “We still believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices should be returned to the FTC, the nation’s expert agency with respect to these important subjects,” says Pai and Ohlhausen. “All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency. “

Pai kind of sprung this whole thing on the commission last Friday, asking that commissioners take a vote by the end of today. It passed 2–1, with the commission’s lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, opposing.

In a strong dissenting opinion, Clyburn wrote that Pai’s action today is the first step toward “gutting the commission’s duly adopted privacy rules.” Undoing data protection rules in particular, she writes, lets internet providers “shift the costs for corporate negligence onto private citizens.”

There’s no timeline yet for when the commission will rework the privacy rules, but it’ll need to put something into place in the near future.

Update Wednesday, March 1st, 7:32PM ET: This article has been updated to include quotes from Pai, Ohlhausen, and Clyburn