Democrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data

Democrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data
© Greg Nash

The Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee strongly criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday, accusing it of failing to enforce privacy laws and demanding action over a leak of consumer data.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Democrats, including Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PallonePharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine Dem chairmen urge CMS to prevent nursing homes from seizing stimulus payments Federal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems MORE (D-N.J.), referenced an investigation opened by the FCC after The New York Times reported last year that major wireless carriers were disclosing real-time customer location data to third-party data aggregators without the consent of customers.

The committee members wrote that the agency is failing to enforce the Communications Act, which includes customer privacy rules, by not taking action around this incident, and requested an update on the FCC’s investigation.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Despite announcing that it began an investigation into the wireless carriers after being made aware of the allegations in 2018, the FCC has failed, to date, to take any action. And now time is running out since the statute of limitations gives the FCC one year to act,” the committee members wrote. 

The committee members wrote that the cell phone carriers involved have stopped sharing location data with aggregators, but noted that this was done even though the FCC has not taken action. 

“We are concerned that the Commission is shirking its obligation to enforce the Communications Act and the rules it has issued to protect consumers’ privacy,” the committee members wrote. 

Other Democrats who signed the letter included Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick House Democrats pressure Facebook oversight board to address racist, voter suppression content Hillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds MORE (Pa.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooDemocratic chairman says White House blocked FDA commissioner from testifying Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes Democrat asks intel agencies if they're surveilling members of Congress MORE (Calif.), Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiDemocratic lawmaker calls telehealth expansion the 'silver lining' of pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report: Delegates stage state-centric videos for the roll call Overnight Health Care: Obama leans into Trump criticism on coronavirus | CDC gives 3-month window for COVID-19 immunity MORE (Calif.), Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyHillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Lawmakers call for expanded AI role in education, business to remain competitive The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (Calif.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (Vt.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Top tech executives testify in blockbuster antitrust hearing Hillicon Valley: Tech CEOs brace for House grilling | Senate GOP faces backlash over election funds | Twitter limits Trump Jr.'s account The Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations MORE (N.Y.), Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellRaces heat up for House leadership posts Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell easily wins House primary Court orders release of Black Michigan teen who was jailed for missing schoolwork MORE (Mich.), and Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status Let's build a better post-COVID future than fossil fuel consolidation MORE (Fla.).

The group gave the FCC until Nov. 29 to respond with an update on its investigation. 

An official for the FCC told The Hill that the agency was reviewing the letter but did not comment further. 

The letter to Pai on Friday is not the first time members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked the FCC to take action to secure customer data after the 2018 incident. 

Pallone previously asked for a briefing from the FCC in January to understand why the agency had not taken steps to end the sharing of real-time customer location data. Pallone, along with Doyle, wrote again to the FCC in February after the agency refused to give the committee a briefing on the unauthorized data disclosure incident.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also been a key player in the ongoing privacy debate, with the committee holding hearings on the subject this year, and top Democrats working to put together an overarching privacy bill.