As expected, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has handed down sweeping new privacy and security rules for Internet service providers (ISPs). On Thursday, October 27, 2016, a sharply divided commission voted to enact these new rules, which impose strict new requirements for ISPs’ collection, use, sharing, and protection of their customers’ information, including information ISPs receive about their customers’ geolocation and online activities. Consequently, ISPs will soon be subject to heightened notice and consent requirements for activities such as behavioral advertising and other online tracking, as well as more robust security and data breach notification obligations. Up until now, there have not been specific FCC privacy rules that govern ISPs’ handling of such data. ISPs and members of the online advertising industry objected strenuously to numerous aspects of the FCC’s proposed rules, including the FCC’s classification of web browsing behavior as sensitive information subject to opt-in consent, an approach at odds with that of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s primary regulator of commercial privacy and security interests. Ultimately, the FCC waved off those objections in adopting its final rules.
The FCC’s action today represents the culmination of a rulemaking process that the FCC initiated in 2015. At that time, as part of the Open Internet Order, the FCC made the decision to apply the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act—which had previously only governed telephone services—to the world of broadband. The FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in March 2016 to address a host of questions regarding how Section 222 applies to broadband providers. On October 6, 2016, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated to his fellow commissioners a proposed Order, which was approved earlier today by a 3-2 vote. The final Order has not yet been released.
Click here to read our complete WSGR Alert summarizing the aspects of the FCC’s decision that we believe will be of the greatest significance to our clients.