Jan 31, 2020 - Technology

FCC says wireless location data sharing broke the law

FCC commissioners testify before Congress in December.

FCC commissioners testify before Congress in December. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers Friday he intends to propose fines against at least one U.S. wireless carrier for sharing customers' real-time location data with outside parties without the subscribers' knowledge or consent.

Why it matters: The FCC has been investigating for more than a year following revelations that subscriber location data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint made its way to a resale market used by bounty hunters.

Driving the news: Pai said in letters to several lawmakers that the agency's investigation has found that "one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law."

  • Pai said he intends to seek commission approval of one or more proposed fines "in the coming days."

What they're saying: Democrats who have called on the FCC for an investigation said this conclusion is overdue.

  • "This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’ll be watching to make sure the FCC doesn’t just let these lawbreakers off the hook with a slap on the wrist," said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, who along with 10 other Democrats wrote a November letter to Pai about the issue.
  • "It’s a shame that it took so long for the FCC to reach a conclusion that was so obvious," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.
  • "I’m eager to see whether the FCC will truly hold wireless companies accountable, or let them off with a slap on the wrist," said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who raised alarms at the FCC in 2018 about the sale of wireless location data.

Go deeper: Location data is ground zero in privacy wars

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