There are three key statutes that address how providers of telecommunications and providers of certain video services may collect, use, and disclose consumer information:  the Communications Act, the Cable Act, and the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA).1

Section 222 of the Communications Act, overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), obligates telecommunications carriers “to protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of, and relating to . . . customers.”2  Both Section 222 and the FCC’s implementing rules limit the circumstances under which a telecommunications carrier may use, disclose, or permit access to consumer proprietary network information (CPNI) that it “receives or obtains . . . by virtue of its provision of a telecommunications service,” and require carriers to comply with notice and data protection obligations with regard to such information.3

The Cable Act of 1984 includes provisions that today serve as the primary statutes governing cable providers’ collection, handling, and sharing of personal information.4  In addition, the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004 (SHVERA) includes a parallel provision that imposes similar requirements on the collection, handling, and sharing of personal information for customers of direct broadcast satellite services.5  Both of these laws are enforced through a private right of action.

The VPPA was enacted in 1988 following an incident wherein journalists were able to obtain Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental history.  The law is designed to protect consumers’ viewing and video rental information from disclosure.  Though the VPPA originally was intended to apply to traditional video rental stores, courts have readily applied the statute’s provisions to streaming content providers like Netflix and Hulu.6

47 USC § 222 (The Communications Act); 47 USC § 551 (The Cable Act); 18 USC § 2710 (VPPA).

2 47 USC § 222.

3 47 CFR §§ 64.2001-2011.

47 USC § 551.

5 47 USC § 338(i).

Jeff Lambe, Applying VPPA to Online Video Privacy, IAPP: RESOURCE CENTER, available here (last visited Feb. 22, 2019).

More topics in this series