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Champion of Do-Not-Track Praises Senate's Vote to End ISP Privacy Rules

By Published on .

Jon Leibowitz, former FTC chairman
Jon Leibowitz, former FTC chairman
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Restrictions on ISP data sharing and use lauded by privacy advocates and bemoaned by ad industry trade groups just got even closer to kaput. The Senate today passed a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission rule which, had it gone into effect as originally planned for earlier this month, would have blocked internet service providers from activities like using and sharing data on location and web-browsing habits unless consumers explicitly opted in.

There is a companion bill sponsored by GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee that if passed, which is likely in the majority-Republican body, would seal the fate of the controversial rules.

Today's vote earned praise from a supporter of other digital privacy initiatives, former Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, who while serving as FTC chair stunned the ad industry when he called for a do-not-track mechanism for online ad privacy in 2010.

Mr. Leibowitz, now a co-chair of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, has been a critic of the FCC privacy rules for ISPs since they were introduced last year. His primary problem with the rules is that they are inconsistent with the FTC's own privacy regulations which affect so-called edge-providers operating in the digital industry such as Google or Facebook.

The 21st Century Privacy Coalition was formed in 2013 by telcos, many in the ISP business, including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. In 2016 the group garnered more than $1 million in funding from the telco industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Leibowitz was appointed chairman of the FTC by President Barack Obama in 2009 and served two terms in that role.

In a statement supporting today's Senate vote, Mr. Leibowitz wrote the following:

"During the drafting of the rule, the FTC raised substantial concerns about the FCC's proposed rule. While the FCC ultimately addressed some of these concerns, it failed to address the most important critiques in its final rule. The FCC did not embrace a technology neutral approach to privacy, setting out an overbroad definition of sensitive data out of step with consumer expectations, and failed to place sensible restrictions on its breach notification standard in its flawed rule."

He also stressed that "The FCC still has authority to bring privacy cases and can vigorously do so, as it has in recent years."

The FCC privacy rules for ISPs have been doomed since President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai, also a critic of the regulations, to head the FCC.