WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of U.S. groups on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to write sweeping privacy protections for the nation's broadband users.
The groups want providers of broadband internet services including mobile and landline phone, cable and satellite TV firms to be subject to tough privacy regulations.
Among the firms that would be affected are AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp, Verizon Communications Inc and Cablevision Systems Corp.
"As the role of the Internet in the daily lives of consumers increases, this means an increased potential for surveillance," said the letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler seen by Reuters and signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen and 54 other groups.
Critics say broadband providers are already harvesting huge amounts of consumer data for use in targeted advertising, the groups wrote. "This can create a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices derived from data use," the letter said.
Wheeler said this broadband providers must make sure information they collect about consumers is secure and that they are informed and have a choice about whether to participate.
In November, Wheeler said he expected the FCC would address privacy practices "in the next several months" from companies that "provide network services" and consumers should know what is being collected about their internet use.
Wheeler said the FCC questions if consumers "know what information is being collected? Do I have a voice in whether or not that's going to be used one way or another? Those are two very important baseline rights that individuals ought to have."
In November, the FCC rejected a petition from the group Consumer Watchdog to require internet firms called "edge providers" like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, and LinkedIn to honor "Do Not Track" Requests from consumers.
The FCC has repeatedly said it has no intention to regulate those firms although Alphabet's Google could fall under the privacy regulations in its pilot project in which it is providing internet service.
An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment on the timing of any announcement.
A spokesman for USTelecom, a trade association representing major broadband providers, declined to comment, noting that the FCC has not proposed any privacy regulations.
Two Republican FCC commissioners wrote in August in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the "FCC should refrain from imposing its Byzantine privacy regime on broadband and Internet providers."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)