FCC chair declines emergency briefing request over location data concerns

FCC chair declines emergency briefing request over location data concerns
© Anna Moneymaker

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), declined a top House Democrat's request for an emergency briefing on the wireless industry's data collection practices amid troubling reports about the availability of real-time location information.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers call on Trump to keep tech legal shield out of trade talks Hillicon Valley: FTC fines Facebook B in privacy settlement | Critics pan settlement as weak | Facebook also faces FTC antitrust probe | Senate panel advances 'deepfakes' legislation | House passes anti-robocall bill House passes anti-robocall bill MORE (D-N.J.) said on Monday that Pai's staff told him the shutdown prevented the agency from conducting such a briefing for Congress because the issue does not constitute a "threat to the safety of human life or property."

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“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 said in a statement. "The Committee will continue to press the FCC to prioritize public safety, national security and protecting consumers.”

In its own statement, the FCC said it "has been investigating wireless carriers' handling of location information," and will press forward after the partial government shutdown ends.

"Unfortunately, we were required to suspend that investigation earlier this month because of the lapse in funding, and pursuant to guidance from our expert attorneys, the career staff that is working on this issue are currently on furlough," the statement reads.

Democratic lawmakers in the past week have called on the FCC to crack down wireless providers' privacy practices after the news site Motherboard published an investigation into how easy it is to purchase real-time location data off of aggregation companies.

The FCC has been unable to respond directly to the development because of the shutdown, but that didn't stop Pallone from requesting an emergency briefing from Pai.