March 6 --The biggest challenge facing the Federal Communications Commission as a privacy regulator in the 21st Century is the sheer “oldness” of its governing statute, Jennifer Tatel, the agency's associate general counsel, said during a panel discussion at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit 2014.
The last time Congress overhauled the Communications Act was in 1996, just prior to the rise of the Internet and long before the issue of consumer privacy and data protection flared into a major political dispute. And even then, congressional lawmakers were much more concerned about opening up local telecommunications markets to competition than safeguarding the privacy and security of consumers' personal data.
Their final product, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, contained scant few provisions relating to privacy, the most critical one being the use of customer proprietary network information (or CPNI)--the data collected by phone companies about their customers' calls, including the time, date, duration, and destination number of each call.
Section 222 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act, specifically prevents telecom carriers from disclosing or permitting access to their customers' individually identifiable CPNI without consent. A carrier that receives or obtains CPNI “shall only use, disclose, or permit access to individually identifiable CPNI in its provision of (A) the telecommunications service from which such information is derived, or (B) services necessary to, or used in, the provision of such telecommunications service, including the publishing of directories.”
The law defines CPNI as “information that relates to the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location and amount of use of a telecommunications service subscribed to by any customer of a telecommunications carrier.”
“If it's not CPNI, there's not much we can do,” said Tatel, who heads up all the agency's privacy efforts.
Recently, the FCC's CPNI regulations have become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about NSA surveillance and the privacy rights of ordinary citizens.
According to a Nov. 7 New York Times article, AT&T Inc. had sold some of its customers' anonymized call records to the Central Intelligence Agency. A month later, nearly a dozen public-interest groups led by Public Knowledge filed a petition with the FCC for a declaratory ruling that Section 222 of the Communications Act forbids companies from selling de-identified call records to third parties without their customers' consent. Even if wireless companies “mask” several phone number digits from the call records they sell, the remaining data--incoming calls, call times, and call durations--do not constitute anonymous records because they can be linked back to specific individuals, the groups argued.
Though Tatel declined to discuss how the FCC might rule on the petition, she said the agency continues to remain active in protecting consumers' privacy, at least to the extent it can.
She pointed out that in June 2013 the FCC issued a declaratory ruling stating that wireless carriers must also adhere to the agency's CPNI rules, which historically only applied to traditional telephone companies and providers of internet-based phone services. Under the ruling, when a wireless carrier collects a customer's personal information, such as a number dialed, the length of a call, and the location of where a call is placed or received, that company may use or disclose it only as permitted by the commission's CPNI rules. The decision also makes it clear that carriers must take “reasonable precautions” to prevent unauthorized disclosure of such information, including by third-party marketers. But the ruling only applies to wireless carriers, not operating systems run by companies such as Google Inc. or Apple Inc.
And in April 2012, the FCC fined Google for obstructing an inquiry into the company's Street View project, which had collected Internet data from potentially millions of people as specially equipped cars drove slowly by their homes.
During the panel discussion, Natalie Roisman, a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP who advises clients on policy and regulatory issues related to the media and telecommunications fields, noted that House Republicans have begun a process to rewrite the Communications Act, which could provide the FCC with more authority to protect consumer privacy.
“Really anything could be fair game,” Roisman said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Barbagallo in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bob Emeritz at firstname.lastname@example.org
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)