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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 PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms 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.

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“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. DoyleCongressional CEO grillings can't solve disinformation: We need a public interest regulator Hillicon Valley: Another Big Tech hearing | Cyber Command flexes operations | Trump's social media site in the works Lawmakers vent frustration in first hearing with tech CEOs since Capitol riot MORE (Pa.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooNIH readies grants for more research on long-term health effects of COVID-19 Lawmakers launch bipartisan caucus on SALT deduction Biden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles MORE (Calif.), Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiHillicon Valley: US, UK authorities say Russian hackers exploited Microsoft vulnerabilities | Lawmakers push for more cyber funds in annual appropriations | Google child care workers ask for transportation stipend Lawmakers push for increased cybersecurity funds in annual appropriations Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J MORE (Calif.), Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyIn defense of misinformation House Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds MORE (Calif.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats push to add drug pricing, Medicare measures to Biden plan House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After historic verdict, Chauvin led away in handcuffs MORE (Vt.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeHillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Biden administration, Congress unite in effort to tackle ransomware attacks Hillicon Valley: Twitter will not allow Trump account archive on platform | Commerce Dept. still weighing approach to Huawei, TikTok | Dating apps work to reinvent amid COVID-19 pandemic MORE (N.Y.), Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellNurses union lobbies Congress on health care bills during National Nurses Week OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review Why the US needs a successful federal green bank MORE (Mich.), and Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoBiden calls for path to citizenship for dreamers, farmworkers Harris moves forward with new Central America strategy Hispanic Caucus energized by first Biden meeting 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.