The FCC order defines categories of sensitive information.
The FCC order defines categories of sensitive information.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Thursday claimed a victory for privacy after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to require internet service providers to obtain opt-in permission from customers to use or share their personal data.

“Today's vote is a historic win for privacy and free expression and for the vitality of the internet,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley said in a statement. “Just as telephone companies are not allowed to listen in to our calls or sell information about who we talk to, our internet providers shouldn't be allowed to monitor our internet usage for profit.”

The order applies the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act to broadband ISPs.

The commission called the privacy rules a “framework” that give customers more control over their information. The order defined categories of information that fall under the umbrella of “sensitive” – precise geo-location data, financial information, health data, information on children and social security numbers as well as web browsing history, the history of app usage and communications content.

The order allows ISPs to share non-sensitive information like email addresses unless a customer specifically opts out. The FCC also provided exceptions to the consent strictures. “Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection,” according to the FCC's release, and requires “no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.”

ISPs must also adhere to transparency requirements that include giving customers clear notice of what information is being collected and how it will be shared. They must also comply with reasonable data security practices.

While a win for privacy, the “order is not airtight,” warned the ACLU's Stanley.  “We can expect the industry to try to exploit every crack in these protections, and hope that the spirit of vigorous oversight and consumer protection that has animated this proceeding will continue. ”