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    In the News: Coalition Urges FCC to Take Steps to Protect Consumers

    A coalition of 17 groups (including the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Privacy Lives) has sent a letter (pdf) to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski “to take the regulatory actions necessary to achieve” several key goals that the FCC laid out as part of its National Broadband Plan (pdf).

    Specifically, because of the DC Circuit decision in Comcast vs. FCC, there are now questions regarding Commission’s authority to implement these goals. While legislation might be one route to achieving this objective, we urge the Commission to move forward expeditiously to adopt a legally justifiable regulatory framework to enact the broadband plan.

    We are writing this letter now because the importance of moving forward on key civil rights objectives of the national broadband plan has been lost in the context of the debate on net neutrality. Regardless of how organizations view net neutrality, the Commission’s authority to achieve many objectives critical to the civil rights community must be affirmed. These objectives include expansion of the Universal Service Fund to broadband, assurance of transparency and truth in billing, protection of consumers’ privacy online, and internet accessibility for those with disabilities. Because the Comcast decision makes the Commission’s authority to undertake these critical elements of the Plan subject to clarification, it is incumbent on the Commission to have a comprehensive framework on which to move forward to implement its stated goals. […]

    Privacy Protections
    Another goal of the broadband plan is to:

    “Clarify the relationship between users and their online profiles to enable continued innovation and competition in applications and ensure consumer privacy, including the obligations of firms collecting personal information to allow consumers to know what information is being collected, consent to such collection, correct it if necessary, and control disclosure of such personal information to third parties.”

    Increased internet use and broadband capacity has allowed private companies to collect vast amounts of data on users – information that is being used to create detailed profiles of their movements, interests and activities online. This harms consumers by invading their privacy and curbs innovation and adoption of new technologies by making consumers hesitant to use them. In order to address consumer fears, the Plan calls on Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and the FCC to improve the relationship between users and the entities that create these online profiles. In order for the FCC to meet its obligations, it requires the legal authority to enact privacy protections for broadband service under Section 222. Without that authority the Commission will be unable to quell invasive practices like deep packet inspection. If such routine privacy invasions are permitted to take place, the value of Internet communications will decrease as a social good, contrary to the mission of the FCC and our national interest.

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