Former FTC chief: Privacy fears are 'hyper-partisan hyperbole'

Is your internet privacy dead?
Is your internet privacy dead?

The fear surrounding Congress's decision to roll-back some Obama-era internet privacy rules is just "hyper-partisan hyperbole," says former Federal Trade Commission chair Jon Leibowitz.

Leibowitz headed the FTC under President Obama and now chairs the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, which opposes the rules. The coalition is funded by, among others, broadband providers including Verizon, Comcast and AT&T (whose planned acquisition of CNN's parent company, Time Warner, is under government review).

Leibowitz told CNN's Michael Smerconish that Americans still have privacy protections.

"It is more accurate to say the status quo will continue," Leibowitz said.

In October, the Federal Communication Commission instituted rules that would prevent internet service providers from selling customers' personal information without their consent, and these are the regulations that were overturned last week.

Related: Trump supports repeal of Internet privacy protections

But Leibowitz said consumers' fears are misplaced. He said other privacy protections are still in place, and violating some of them could subject internet providers to federal enforcement action.

Doing away with the FCC rules, Leibowitz said, will allow regulators to implement a new set of rules that can be applied across the entire industry.

Right now, he said, the FCC regulates internet service providers, like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), but the FTC regulates tech firms like Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB). Regulating their privacy practices separately causes confusion for companies and consumers, Leibowitz said, echoing the Republican argument to strip the FCC regulations.

Related: Congress just killed your Internet privacy protections

And Leibowitz argues those FCC rules are flawed anyway. What's going on in Washington right now, he said, is just overblown politics.

"Washington, as we all know, is hyper-partisan these days, and privacy issues -- which should be nonpartisan and were nonpartisan at the FTC -- have become even more partisan. There's a lot of sky-is-falling hyperbole," Leibowitz said.

"It'd be great if people could cut through this fact-free environment and talk about real issues," he said.

Privacy advocates, consumer groups, members of the tech community and Congressional Democrats disagree. Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano was particularly vocal during the House debate on the topic.

"What the heck were you thinking? Why would you want to give out any of your personal information to a faceless corporation for the sole purpose of them selling it? Give me one good reason," he said.

Trump is expected to sign the bill overturning the FCC privacy rules once it crosses his desk.

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to identify Leibowitz as the chairman of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, a group that opposes the FCC rules.

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