Steve Jobs once observed “there are unintended consequences to everything” – a statement that definitely applies to the internet, which Jobs himself helped usher in. It’s the most powerful and far reaching communication technology ever invented, but it also demands that consumers and companies be vigilant in protecting online privacy. And here’s where the Federal Communications Commission seems determined to upend the country’s few pro-consumer success stories and endanger an entire ecosystem of protections, protocols and policies that will in turn further destabilize America’s leadership position with the rest of the world.
And it is not just ordinary consumers who are concerned.
Security experts have weighed in to explain how the FCC’s proposals will in fact undermine efforts to bolster cyber security. Civil rights and consumer groups have loudly voiced their concerns about the way the rules will impact access to new products and services, prices for broadband and the general state of competition across the internet sector that keeps companies from harming consumers. These same groups recognize what we all do but the FCC apparently does not – private information should be protected from exploitation by any company, not just a few.
And even more striking, the renowned Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe also analyzed the FCC’s proposals and concluded they were so arbitrary and unfair that they violate the U.S. Constitution. In Tribe’s view, the government cannot draw artificial distinctions between businesses and speakers like ones the FCC is trying to draw between broadband providers and “internet” companies.
Concerns around the proposed privacy regulations are not confined to the U.S., however. There has also been a significant outcry from European officials who are watching the discord between the FCC and the FTC with a wary eye.
Rather than rush heedlessly forward with destructive and unconstitutional regulations, the FCC should return to the administration’s first principles on privacy and come forward with a new proposal that is straightforward, consistent with consumer expectations and that applies equally to the entire internet ecosystem.
Shane Tews is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy. She previously dealt with internet security and domain issues as vice president of global policy for Verisign Inc.
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