House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) criticized FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today for the agency’s refusal to brief committee staff during the partial shutdown of the Commission and broader federal government on wireless carriers’ disclosure of consumers’ location data to third parties and the FCC’s response to the situation.
“Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refused to brief Energy and Commerce Committee staff on the real-time tracking of cell phone location, as reported by Motherboard last week. In a phone conversation today, his staff asserted that these egregious actions are not a threat to the safety of human life or property that the FCC will address during the Trump shutdown,” Mr. Pallone said in a news release.
“The safety of first responders and consumers should be a top priority for the Chairman and the FCC. Commissioner [Jessica] Rosenworcel was available for a briefing but, as a minority member of the FCC, she does not have the authority to direct resources at the Commission,” Mr. Pallone added. “There’s nothing in the law that should stop the Chairman personally from meeting about this serious threat that could allow criminals to track the location of police officers on patrol, victims of domestic abuse, or foreign adversaries to track military personnel on American soil. The Committee will continue to press the FCC to prioritize public safety, national security, and protecting consumers.”
Mr. Pallone wrote Mr. Pai on Friday seeking the emergency briefing on why the Commission “has yet to end wireless carriers’ unauthorized disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data and what actions the FCC has taken to address this issue to date” (TR Daily, Jan. 11).
The FCC has said that as a result of the partial government shutdown, only “work required for the protection of life and property will continue, as will any work related to spectrum auctions, which is funded by auction proceeds. In addition, the Office of the Inspector General will continue operations until further notice.” The Commission suspended most operations on Jan. 3 after having enough funding to continue uninterrupted until then following the Dec. 22 partial government shutdown began (TR Daily, Jan. 2).
“As we told Committee staff today, the Commission has been investigating wireless carriers' handling of location information. Unfortunately, we were required to suspend that investigation earlier this month because of the lapse in funding, and pursuant to guidance from our expert attorneys, the career staff that is working on this issue are currently on furlough,” an FCC spokesperson said today. “Of course, when the Commission is able to resume normal operations, the investigation will continue.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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