Ajit Pai Refuses To Brief Congress On What He Plans To Do About Wireless Location Data Scandals

from the thanks-but-no-thanks dept

So last week yet another location data scandal emerged for the wireless industry, highlighting once again how carriers are collecting your location data, then selling it to a universe of sometimes shady partners with little to no oversight or accountability. Like the Securus and LocationSmart scandals before it, last week's Motherboard report highlighted how all manner of dubious dudebros (and law enforcement officers) have been abusing this data for years, and the Ajit Pai FCC has yet to so much as mention the problem, much less spend a single calorie addressing it in any meaningful way.

Shortly after the scandal broke last week, Frank Pallone, the Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, asked Pai (pdf) to brief Congress on the steps the agency was taking to address the wireless sector's long-standing failure to adequately address location data abuse. Pai's response? Yeah, no thanks.

In a statement issued by Pallone, he says Pai's office claimed that since the location data scandal wasn't putting lives at risk, Pai could not attend such a briefing during the government shutdown:

"Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refused to brief Energy and Commerce Committee staff on the real-time tracking of cell phone location, as reported by Motherboard last week. In a phone conversation today, his staff asserted that these egregious actions are not a threat to the safety of human life or property that the FCC will address during the Trump shutdown.

While the FCC's working on a skeleton crew right now due to the shut down, there's nothing actually stopping Pai from wandering down the road to answer a few questions, something Pallone was quick to highlight in his statement:

"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. The Committee will continue to press the FCC to prioritize public safety, national security, and protecting consumers."

Granted Pai wasn't doing much about this problem when the government was open, either.

Academics and other privacy experts have told me this could easily be addressed using the FCC and FTC authority we already have (read: we don't even need a new privacy law), we've just chosen to kowtow to telecom lobbyists instead. In fact the FCC's privacy rules would have addressed the issue by giving consumers more control of how their location data is shared and sold, but sector lobbyists made quick work of those rules back in 2017. Even having Pai publicly state that this behavior is unacceptable might go a long way toward addressing the issue, though he's yet to do even that.

Pai has made it fairly clear by now that he sees government consumer protection oversight as largely unnecessary, and all criticism of his unpopular policies as entirely political in nature, therefore making it OK to ignore (the myopia of that belief system most obviously exemplified by his attacks on net neutrality). As a result, you should expect the FCC to continue to do little to nothing about location data scandals. At least until there's enough scandals of this type to push public outrage past the breaking point, finally making it clear that doing absolutely nothing is no longer an option. So, 2025 or so?

Filed Under: ajit pai, congress, e&c, fcc, frank pallone, house energy & commerce committee, location, location data, privacy, shutdown


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  1. identicon
    Rocky, 16 Jan 2019 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re: Re:

    > Why not? If someone has my location data, they'll learn that I spend most of my time at home or at work, and that I occasionally spend time at restaurants, going to movies, going to church, shopping, training at a local dojo, etc. They might uncover the rather salacious detail that I visit somebody in a town 30 miles away on a semi-regular basis... until a bit of digging reveals that that's my parents' house. Honestly there's nothing particularly ground-shaking there.

    The difference is that you voluntarily feed info to FB, your location info is sold without you having a say.

    > And, well... why exactly is that a bad thing, to take some of the uncertainty out of hunting down dangerous people, which (among other things) helps them to reduce the risk of anyone getting hurt in the process?

    Anecdotal positive use of the info doesn't mean all uses of the info is positive. Criminals finding out that you are out of state can break in and clean out your property, stalkers can find out where you are etc etc. There are a multitude of uses of the information that can negatively impact you.

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