Ajit Pai May Have Lied To Congress About FCC's Failure To Address Wireless Location Data Scandals

from the ill-communication dept

So we've talked a bit about how the FCC has done absolutely nothing to seriously address the rise of wireless industry location data scandals. That's despite story after story showing how wireless carriers were selling this data to an endless line of companies and organizations. Those organizations, in turn, failed utterly to protect this data from being misused by everybody from law enforcement to bail bondsman and even random stalkers posing as law enforcement. Despite this being on scale with the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, the silence from the Pai FCC has been deafening.

Last week during a Congressional FCC oversight hearing, several lawmakers criticized Pai for failing to hold carriers accountable or even publicly mentioning the scandal. And while the FCC has supposedly been conducting an investigation for the better part of the last year, Pai's fellow commissioners say they've been stonewalled when they've asked about the progress of the inquiry. When Representative Anna Eshoo pressed Pai on whether he was withholding information from his fellow commissioners, he refused to answer the question:

"Can you tell us today that you’re going to share information with two full-fledged members of the commission?” Eshoo asked at one point. “You’re saying you can’t tell us, but will you tell them?”

“Congresswoman, this is not a ‘yes or no’ question,” he said.

Cute. Again, both of Pai's fellow Democratic Commissioners (Geoffrey Sparks and Jessica Rosenworcel) say they requested the “letters of inquiry” sent out by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau at the investigation’s outset but were repeatedly stonewalled by Pai and his leadership team. But when pressed by Congress, Pai stated he was "not aware" of any such requests, suggesting the FCC boss lied to Congress:

"Sources with knowledge of the requests told Gizmodo that they were baffled by the chairman’s response, for one reason in particular: At an FCC Open Commission Meeting on January 30, Rosenworcel told a group of reporters while live-streaming on the agency’s website: “I’ve been told there’s an investigation, but I’ve asked the enforcement bureau for the letters of inquiry that start investigations, and they have not yet been provided to me. I’d like to see them."

Given Pai's refusal to hold giant telecom carriers accountable for pretty much anything (ranging from telco taxpayer fraud to hurricane recovery failures), most of the consumer activists and lawyers I've spoken to believe Pai is just running interference for industry until the statute of limitations runs out, and the reason he doesn't want to talk much about the FCC's investigation is because it's not much of one. Some consumer groups were particularly gobsmacked by Pai's attempt to throw Commissioner Starks (who just started work) under the bus for the agency's failures on this front:

Again, Pai's decision to be a rubber stamp for the telecom industry's biggest companies isn't much in dispute at this point, though Pai and his staffers like to insist (and may even actually believe) this is all just unfair partisan posturing. Pai has repeatedly stated that the industry can self-regulate, but when it comes to privacy they've shown themselves to be incapable of the task. So while carriers say they've ceased the collection and sale of your location data to every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the internet, with their history of falsehoods on the privacy front, the only way to actually confirm this is a transparent, third party inquiry.

Filed Under: ajit pai, congress, fcc, lying to congress

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  1. icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 23 May 2019 @ 8:14am

    Was Pai lying?

    That's not a yes-or-no question. It's Pai, so it's "yes".

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