A few privacy advocates have mistakenly criticized Sen. Susan Collins for her vote to prevent the FCC’s broadband privacy rules from going into effect. As the former Democratic chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s leading privacy enforcement agency, which has brought more than 500 privacy cases, including more than 50 cases against companies for misusing or failing to reasonably protect customer data, let me assure you: the FCC’s rules are deeply flawed.

By creating a separate set of regulations that bind only internet service providers — but not other companies that collect as much or more consumer data — with heightened restrictions on the use and sharing of data that are out of sync with consumer expectations, the FCC rejected the bedrock principle of technology-neutral privacy rules recognized by the FTC, the Obama administration, and consumer advocates alike. Protecting privacy is about putting limits on what data is collected and how it is being used, not who is doing the collecting, and for that reason, a unanimous FTC — that is, both Democratic and Republican commissioners — actually criticized the FCC’s proposed rule in a bipartisan and unanimous comment letter as “not optimal,” among 27 other specific criticisms of the rule.

For those concerned about what this vote means for their privacy online, it is important to remember that the resolution in Congress has no bearing on the FCC’s legal authority to bring privacy cases against internet service providers that misuse or fail to adequately protect customer data. The FCC has used this authority vigorously over the past several years, and is free to continue to do so moving forward.

In the end, Sen. Collins should be commended for providing the FCC with a “reset” and another chance to get privacy right.

Jon Leibowitz

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Former chairman, Federal Trade Commission

Washington, D.C.

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