Privacy in the digital world continues to remain a sensitive and evocative subject, especially in the light of what has transpired recently in terms of the FBI / Apple showdown over the hacking of an iPhone 5C that’s said to have belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooting suspects. Politicians, security analysts, law enforcement officials and privacy advocates were quick to jump in with their opinions, as did tech bigwigs like Mr. Bill Gates, Mr. John McAfee as well as Apple CEO, Mr. Tim Cook, who weighed in with his views on the issue during the recent launch of the iPhone SE. While not all of them spoke in unison, the common consensus was that privacy has to be one of the most important issues for citizens in a free society.
Now, it is the turn of the U.S. FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to do its bit for the harried U.S. consumers by officially proposing to begin regulating how American ISPs (Internet Service Providers) safeguard their customers’ privacy. The federal agency conducted a vote on Thursday to throw open the debate to the public, following the proposal of the Commission’s Chairman, Mr. Tom Wheeler. The result of the vote, however was far from a consensus, with Mr. Wheeler’s proposal managing to win the commission's approval by a narrow 3-2 margin. However, the Chairman expressed satisfaction at the result, noting, “It's the consumers' information and the consumer should have the right to determine how it's used”.
Meanwhile, critics of the proposal include Mr. Wheeler’s FCC colleague and Republican appointee, Mr. Ajit Pai, who said that he was not in favor of regulating only ISPs, while letting errant websites go scot-free. While privacy advocates have won the day, victory in the larger context is far from guaranteed. That can only happen after a final vote, which will likely follow the period during which the FCC will be in consultation with citizens’ rights groups and members of the general public. If adopted finally, the new regulations will restrict the ability of internet service providers to share with advertisers and other third parties any information about their customers and their online browsing habits without their explicit written consent.