TR Daily Pallone Seeks FCC Briefing, Action on Location Data Disclosures
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Friday, January 11, 2019

Pallone Seeks FCC Briefing, Action on Location Data Disclosures

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today for an emergency briefing on Monday with committee staff 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.” He also called for immediate FCC action “to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data and take enforcement action against carriers that violated the Commission’s rules and the trust of their customers.”

Mr. Pallone said in a letter to Mr. Pai that the “emergency briefing is necessary in the interest of public safety national security, and therefore cannot wait until President Trump decides to reopen the government.”

Mr. Pallone’s request follows a report earlier this week by Motherboard that said T-Mobile, Inc., Sprint Corp., and AT&T, Inc., are selling access to customer data that is being obtained by third parties such as bounty hunters (TR Daily, Jan. 9).

The disclosure has drawn criticism and calls for investigations from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and a number of members of Congress.

“Bad actors can use location information to track individuals’ physical movements without their knowledge or consent,” Mr. Pallone said in his letter to Mr. Pai. “If recent reports detailing the cheap, accurate, and easy accessibility of legally protected, real-time location data are true, we must work expeditiously to address these public safety concerns. If we don’t, the privacy and security of everyone who subscribes to wireless phone service from certain carriers — including government officials, military personnel, domestic violence victims, and law enforcement officials — may be compromised.”

Mr. Pallone noted that in May 2018, “investigative journalists and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped bring to light the ease with which consumers’ real-time location data was being made available to the public. Following those revelations, the FCC referred the allegations to its Enforcement Bureau for investigation. In June, some wireless carriers publicly committed to addressing the issue and put an end to this unauthorized disclosure. Yet a new report this week indicates this unfortunate practice continues.

“The FCC once again appears to have dragged its feet in protecting consumers. While some carriers have now recommitted to stopping such unauthorized disclosure, the public can no longer rely on their voluntary promises to protect this extremely sensitive information,” Mr. Pallone complained. “The FCC must take immediate action to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data and take enforcement action against carriers that violated the Commission’s rules and the trust of their customers.”

An FCC spokesman said he could not comment on Rep. Pallone’s letter because it was not about the FCC’s 28 gigahertz band auction or the partial government shutdown that has closed most of the Commission.

In the wake of the Motherboard report, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Communications, Inc., said that they are terminating agreements with location aggregation companies, including those that provide roadside assistance (TR Daily, Jan. 10), although they made similar commitments last summer.

For example, T-Mobile said in a statement released late yesterday that it is preventing the location data of subscribers from going to an aggregator mentioned in the Motherboard report.

“We take the privacy and security of our customers’ information very seriously and will not tolerate any misuse of our customers’ data,” a T-Mobile spokesperson said. “While T-Mobile does not have a direct relationship with Microbilt, our vendor Zumigo was working with them and has confirmed with us that they have already shut down all transmission of T-Mobile data. T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt as an additional precaution. We have previously stated that we are terminating the agreements we have with third party data aggregators and we are nearly finished with that process.”

In a tweet this week, T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere responded to skepticism expressed by Sen. Wyden about whether T-Mobile would end its agreements with location aggregators after saying last summer that it would do so (TR Daily, June 19 and 20, 2018).

“I keep my word, @RonWyden. T-Mobile IS completely ending location aggregator work. We’re doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance. It will end in March, as planned and promised,” Mr. Legere said.

In a tweet yesterday, Sen. Wyden said, “Congress needs to pass strong legislation to protect Americans’ privacy and finally hold companies accountable when they put your safety at risk by letting stalkers and criminals track your phone on the dark web.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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