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 PalloneFederal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills 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. DoyleFCC rejects petition to probe broadcasts of Trump coronavirus briefings Bottom Line Hillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief MORE (Pa.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added protections | ACLU calls on House to block warrantless web browsing surveillance | Dems introduce COVID-19 privacy bill Democrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups MORE (Calif.), Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiDozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups Democrats introduce legislation to ensure internet access for college students MORE (Calif.), Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyDemocratic lawmakers ask how FEMA is planning to balance natural disasters, COVID-19 response Democratic senator criticizes Zoom's security and privacy policies Thousands of Zoom meeting recordings exposed online: report MORE (Calif.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats roll out national plan to reopen America Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force Dems unlikely to subpoena Bolton MORE (Vt.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeDemocrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation NY Democrats call for mortgage forgiveness in next coronavirus relief bill Hispanic Caucus pushes McConnell on 'Dreamer' bill MORE (N.Y.), Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards We owe front-line workers a debt of gratitude for their courage and compassion MORE (Mich.), and Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoActivists, analysts demand Congress consider immigrants in coronavirus package Hispanic Democrats demand funding for multilingual coronavirus messaging Hispanic Democrats see Sanders's Latino strategy as road map for Biden 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.