Traditionally, I try to avoid political subjects. This is because politics are largely opinionated and I don’t wish to alienate my clients. However, there are certain times when factual evidence needs to be brought into the light to “set the record straight” when it comes to the blend of technology and politics. Make no mistake, we live in a time where the rate of technological evolution is rapidly outpacing government’s ability to protect it’s peoples interests which sometimes leads to gold-hearted measures like the FCC regulations which were recently overturned by congress. Measures which were done with good intentions, but were handled in the wrong way.
In case you’re unaware, early this week U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by both the House and the Senate which repealed a set of regulations that the Federal Communications Commission had passed in October of 2016. These regulations were intended to block Internet Service Providers from collecting and selling or using the browsing habits, histories, and other data of it’s customers without prior consent. The bill that was signed also prevents the FCC from enacting any similar regulations in the future.
Now, to be clear, this type of regulation is not a bad idea. I fully support a rule that would require my ISP to ask me if it can use or sell my data for any purpose and I hope and pray that such regulation returns, properly. However, the current media uproar is by-and-large an uproar over the wrong thing and a lot of anger is being directed at the wrong people.
The first thing about the FCC regulations to notice is that they were passed in October of 2016. They were not however, enacted. This means that these regulations never actually took effect before they were repealed. Therefore the repeal simply removed regulations that were not being enforced. In addition the regulations were never going to be enforced after FCC chairman Ajit Pai, refused to enact them on March 1st, the day they were supposed to take effect. This may cause some to direct their fury to the FCC chairman for not enacting the regulations however this too is an incorrect reaction. To understand why, we first need to look at the FCC itself.
The FCC is an independent agency of the U.S. government. They are tasked with regulating the communication mediums throughout the entire United States. To further explain, their job is to regulate things like what radio frequencies can be used for cell phones, CB radios, Bluetooth and WiFi devices, TV signals, even cable and fiber networks. They are also responsible for preventing monopolies such as the AT&T breakup of the early 1980s. They are also responsible for things like Net Neutrality, the idea that Internet Service Providers cannot increase or decrease their network service level based on the contents of data or where it’s coming from.
The FCC however, is not responsible for creating and enforcing privacy or consumer protection regulations of any kind. That is the job of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Any form of regulation that would prevent ISPs from harvesting and selling consumer data will need to come from the FTC, or even congress to have any real legal effect. If the FCC regulations were left as-is and enacted, it would not take long for lawsuits to come about stating that the FCC overstepped it’s boundaries.
So what did the recent repeal actually do? It’s actually quite simple: The FCC overstepped it’s boundaries by creating rules that it had no business creating. The repeal bill removed those rules and prevents the FCC from overstepping it’s bounds again in that category. Any rules that deal with privacy and consumer protection need to (and hopefully will) come from the FTC.
But why? A rule’s a rule, who cares who makes it? Who makes the rule is just as important as what it’s made for. As I stated above, the lawsuits from ISPs stating that the FCC doesn’t have the regulatory power to make those types of rules would appear almost immediately if the rules were enacted. And the ISPs would likely win, making the passage of those rules moot. Even more importantly however, is that the U.S. has multiple agencies that are tasked with creating regulations for specific areas. If these agencies are allowed to overstep their boundaries, the law system would become a tangled web of inter-agency fighting and the common people would be the ones who ultimately lose.
So if internet privacy is a concern to you, as it should be, do not blame congress, the President, or the FCC chair for the current set of rules. Instead speak out and demand that the FTC, or congress itself, create a properly enforceable set of rules that prevent ISPs from harvesting and selling your data to the highest bidder.