The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) privacy rules required providers such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. to get subscribers’ permission before collecting and sharing their personal data. On April 4, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a congressional resolution rescinding those rules and sparking major concern both in the U.S. and Europe.
Indeed, according to a survey taken shortly after the rollback of the federal privacy rules was announced, some 95 percent of Americans said that they are concerned about businesses’ collection and sale of their personal information without permission.
In Europe, the new concerns over the commitment of the U.S. to privacy come as the EU prepares for its first annual review of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield cross-border data transfer program in September. The Privacy Shield permits U.S. companies that self-declare their compliance with EU-approved privacy and security standards to legally transfer personal data from the EU to the U.S. Over 2,000 U.S. companies are certified under the Privacy Shield, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
While the repeal of the FCC rule does not have a direct effect on the data transfer program because the Privacy Shield does not depend on the FCC rules in any way, it adds further stress to the already strained EU-U.S. Privacy Shield agreement. Indeed, the Privacy Shield is currently at the center of two lawsuits that challenge its efficacy in protecting Europeans from surveillance abuses as well as the independence of a U.S. ombudsperson in charge of handling complaints.
Shortly after the repeal was announced, the European Parliament passed a resolution questioning the U.S.’ commitment to the Privacy Shield and requesting access to documents showing how U.S. authorities are enforcing the Privacy Shield on their end.
The U.S. administration’s decision to repeal the FCC’s data privacy rules is a possible indicator of the direction the U.S. administration is taking with regard to privacy rights. The repeal could suggest that the U.S. is moving towards a new standard of protection for personal privacy.