FCC Chairman Refuses To Brief Congress On Carriers' Location Data Practices

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has refused a lawmaker's request for an “emergency briefing” on the sale of location data by wireless carriers.

Pai's staff said the location-data sales weren't the kind of safety threat that the FCC is addressing during the ongoing government shutdown, according to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey). 

“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,” Pallone stated Monday. “The Committee will continue to press the FCC to prioritize public safety, national security, and protecting consumers.”

Late last week, Pallone urged the agency to provide Congress with an emergency briefing, and to take “immediate action” to stop wireless carriers from selling their customers' location data.

“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,” Pallone wrote to Pai Friday. “The FCC must take immediate action to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data.”

Pallone added that failing to address the sale of location data could compromise the privacy and security of all wireless users, “including government officials, military personnel, domestic violence victims, and law enforcement officials.”

Pallone's letter came in response to an article in Motherboard, which reported last week that some of the largest carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile, are selling customers' location data to third parties. Motherboard's article detailed how a reporter paid a “bounty hunter” $300 to track a phone's location to a neighborhood in Queens, New York. 

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon said last week that they plan to stop selling location data.

But Pallone noted in his letter that the major carriers made similar promises last June. “Yet new reports indicate this unfortunate practice continues,” Pallone wrote. “The FCC once again appears to have dragged its feet in protecting consumers.”

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