TR Daily Complaint Filed Against Wireless Carriers for Location Data Disclosures
Friday, June 14, 2019

Complaint Filed Against Wireless Carriers for Location Data Disclosures

Several public interest entities filed an informal complaint today against AT&T, Inc., T-Mobile US, Inc., Sprint Corp., and Verizon Communications, Inc., over the unauthorized disclosure of customers’ location information – a situation that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is investigating.

In the complaint, the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology, Free Press, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute said that “the Communications Act requires telecommunications providers — including wireless service providers — to observe heightened privacy obligations for location information. But wireless service providers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint (‘Carriers’) have broadly violated those obligations and their customers’ privacy expectations. The Carriers have disclosed customer location information to location aggregators, other location-based services companies, and unauthorized individuals without customer approval. That location information has in some circumstances found its way into the hands of bounty hunters and stalkers. In most cases, Carriers have not attempted to notify their customers of this information sharing, let alone to obtain consent.

“These actions violate Sections 222 and 201(b) of the Communications Act. Carriers have failed their responsibilities under Section 222(c) to obtain customers’ affirmative prior consent before using or sharing customer proprietary network information for purposes other than to provide service,” the complaint added. “Carriers have also failed their responsibilities under Section 222(a) to protect the confidentiality of customers’ proprietary information. Finally, Carriers have violated Section 201(b)’s prohibition against unjust and unreasonable practices by failing to employ even the most basic consent mechanisms, creating an unreasonable risk of unauthorized access, and violating their own privacy policies.”

The complaint added that the actions by the wireless carriers “have threatened public safety, contrary to Congress’ directive that the Commission ensure communications networks promote safety of life and property. The Carriers’ improper disclosure of location information enabled stalkers, people posing as police officers, debt collectors, and others to take advantage and find unwitting individuals. Furthermore, it is likely that abuses of location data have disproportionately impacted disadvantaged and marginalized communities. We urge the Commission to investigate these practices and enforce against the Carriers Sections 201(b) and 222 of the Communications Act, and the Commission’s rules implementing those statutes.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee this week that he couldn’t discuss the agency’s probe of the release of subscriber location data by wireless carriers (TR Daily, June 12). But he said that FCC staffers are “wrapping up the investigation and will be coming to me with recommendations in the near future. I don’t have a specific date.”

Wireless carriers have said they have terminated agreements with location data aggregators and providers of location-based services (LBS).- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews Privacy

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