F.C.C., in Potential Sign of the Future, Halts New Data Security Rules
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday halted new government rules related to data security from taking effect this week, in a potential prelude to a broader repeal of privacy protections for users of high-speed internet.
After a 2-to-1, party-line vote by the Republican-led commission, Ajit Pai, the chairman, announced that a portion of privacy rules passed in October would be temporarily stayed.
The rules, which were to take effect on Thursday, required high-speed internet providers like AT&T and Comcast to secure their customers’ data against hacking and other unauthorized uses.
Mr. Pai, in a sign that additional swipes at privacy rules may be in store, also said the commission should not be engaged in any policing of broadband providers over online privacy. He said the Federal Trade Commission should instead oversee the broadband and web industries.
“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency,” Mr. Pai said in a joint statement with Maureen K. Ohlhausen, the trade commission’s acting chairwoman.
The vote on the data security rules was Mr. Pai’s latest move to roll back regulations created by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, who was appointed by President Barack Obama.
During Mr. Wheeler’s tenure, the F.C.C. created numerous regulations meant to protect users of broadband internet, including the privacy rules passed in October that required strong data-security measures and allowed internet service providers to collect data on web browsing and app usage only with the permission of customers.
Since Mr. Pai’s appointment in January, the commission has moved swiftly to dismantle those regulations since being appointed F.C.C. chairman in January.
The agency has closed an investigation into claims that internet service providers may have been violating net neutrality provisions ensuring equal access to all websites, and has pledged to revoke the regulatory classification of broadband service under which it is treated it like a telephone-style utility.
Under Mr. Pai’s leadership, the commission has also halted nine broadband providers from giving subsidized service to low-income users, putting in limbo reforms to a subsidy program known as Lifeline.
Mr. Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, is expected to move to repeal other portions of the privacy rules passed in October. He has the support of congressional Republicans, who are simultaneously considering their own repeal of the rules through the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to vote to revoke new regulations.
The vote to stay the new data security rules came in response to petitions filed by broadband providers and advertising trade groups that said the rules would give web companies like Google and Facebook an unfair advantage in the online advertising market. Mr. Pai said the F.C.C. may create a weaker version of the privacy rules.
Mignon Clyburn, the F.C.C.’s lone Democratic commissioner, voted against Mr. Pai’s order on Wednesday. She has objected to many of Mr. Pai’s actions, including a decision to abandon the commission’s legal fight to lower how much prisoners pay to make phone calls, which Ms. Clyburn has called a civil rights issue.
The F.C.C. is halting the security rules even as data breaches have become routine, Ms. Clyburn said in a statement, adding that the decision opened the door to further cuts to consumer protections.
The F.C.C. decision, Ms. Clyburn said in the statement, “fells a tree to ostensibly prune a branch.”
Consumer advocates had hailed the privacy rules as a watershed development. There are currently no privacy laws for web firms, and the United States trails many nations in Europe in protecting consumer’s online data.
“Internet service providers have a unique, all-access view into consumers’ daily online lives,” said Laura MacCleery, a vice president at Consumers Union. “We urge the F.C.C. to focus on acting in the public’s interest — rather than the industry’s — and to maintain these critical rules.”
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