The new Federal Communications Commission chairman said Tuesday that he is “very concerned” about the “incredible amount of data” being leaked by Internet service providers, adding that “there’s not a magic bullet” to fixing the problem.
In an interview with NBC News, Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner, said he’s “very worried” that companies are hiding the location of consumers’ Internet traffic, which he said could have a devastating effect on their business models.
The comments came as lawmakers in Washington and at the White House tried to get a fix for a problem that has emerged as a significant source of revenue for ISPs in recent years.
Pai said the FCC would soon release an advisory that will outline the “principles for protecting consumer data” and the “strategies” that the agency will use to help businesses avoid the risk.
Pai has long called for the agency to require ISPs to provide more information about their customers’ Web browsing histories, and he has proposed requiring them to disclose their own customers’ personal information about them.
Pai and FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly have said the agency would use a rule to force ISPs to release the information.
But a proposal that has gained traction in the past year, called the “Open Internet Order,” would require ISPs like Comcast to release data about customers’ traffic for seven years, instead of the current six.
In addition to proposing a new rule, the Open Internet Order would also create a new privacy enforcement agency called the Office of the Inspector General.
It would also require ISPs such as Comcast to disclose all data they store about their customer’s online activities and to publicly disclose that information to the public, such as through a public disclosure portal.
O’Reilly and Pai said Tuesday they have been working to hammer out a rule and proposed rule to implement it, but both said they don’t yet have a clear timeline for when that might happen.
They both noted that the issue is “complex” and that there is no consensus on the best approach.
Pai told NBC News that the commission has been working on a new proposal for months, but it was “totally blocked by a number of stakeholders” who “were trying to block the process.”
He said he hopes that with the new rules in place, “we’ll be able to get the process moving forward in a way that’s consistent with the intent of the order.”
The issue has surfaced as the FCC works to get around the “Internet Freedom” order from President Donald Trump, who has made his dissatisfaction with ISPs a centerpiece of his administration.
The order is expected to force Internet service companies to provide customers with information on where they go online and on how their service is being used.
But it’s unclear how much information ISPs would have to provide under the proposed rules, which also would require them to make their customer data more transparent.
“The idea of giving the public access to that information is very important, but we are also concerned that the rules will create a massive amount of information that is not transparent,” Pai said.
“We want to make sure that that information has a level of protection that’s sufficient to protect the public’s interest in being able to know what’s going on in their private lives and the way they use the Internet.”
He added that “we will have to be vigilant in ensuring that we get the information that we need.”
The FCC’s proposed rules could have major consequences for online privacy, especially in a post-Trump era.
In his White House address Tuesday, Trump vowed to “end the tyranny of the big telecoms.”
Pai said that in the meantime, he wants to work with the “private sector to develop solutions that will be able, and at a minimum, will provide a level playing field for all Internet providers and content providers and all Internet users.”
“We have an obligation to do all we can to ensure that all Americans have the best online experience, and we will continue to pursue those efforts,” Pai told the NBC affiliate.