Stop forcing companies to save user data, groups urge in FCC petition

A coalition of tech and privacy groups are asking the Federal Communications Commission to stop requiring that telecommunications companies store data on their customers for 18 months.

Under current policies, companies have to keep “name, address, and telephone number of the caller, telephone number called, date, time and length of the call” for billing reasons for a year and a half. But the privacy groups say it opens Americans up to inappropriate surveillance and data breaches.

{mosads}“The mandatory retention of call toll records under Section 42.6 violates the fundamental right to privacy,” said the groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a petition to the FCC on Tuesday. “It exposes consumers to data breaches, stifles innovation, and reduces market competition. It is outdated and ineffective. It is not necessary or proportionate for a democratic society.”

Twenty-six organizations, including TechFreedom, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Access, signed on to the letter in addition to EPIC. The center’s advisory board also signed the letter.

The policy, the groups said, leaves Americans’ data vulnerable to attack or government spying. They argued that the mass, prolonged storage of data made it more possible that customers would be exposed to incursions like the recent data breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management.

“The risk of breaches will increase as more sensitive data is retained,” they said. “The best strategy to reduce the risk of an attack and to minimize the harm when such attacks do occur is to collect less sensitive personal information at the outset.”

Retention of the data, which could be viewed by law enforcement agencies, has a “chilling effect,” according to the groups.

The FCC declined to comment on the petition.

Data retention was a flashpoint during the recent debate over reforms to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs. Some lawmakers — including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Angus King (I-Maine) — wanted telecom companies to be required to hold user data so that law enforcement could access it later.

Opponents of the idea said that it would effectively make the companies beholden to the government and argued the FCC’s requirement was sufficient to make sure that companies held onto much of the data in case federal agents needed to use it.

In their letter Tuesday, the groups also argued that the retention of the data adversely impacted the market. They said that “carriers opposed the proposal to retain toll records for 18 months because moving away from toll recordkeeping would allow them to develop more cost efficient recordkeeping systems.”

“Furthermore, the toll recordkeeping is out of sync with the market demands of ‘bundled’ packages that provide consumers with more comprehensive billing structures,” the groups said.

—Updated at 3:56 p.m.

Tags Angus King Dianne Feinstein Electronic Privacy Information Center EPIC

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