On Friday, Free Press joined New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law in calling on the FCC to punish wireless carriers for unauthorized disclosures of cellphone users’ locations.
The three groups, with assistance from the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at Colorado Law, filed a complaint about disturbing reports that the four major U.S. wireless carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — sold real-time location data to third-party location aggregators.
Those aggregators then made the data available to bounty hunters; stalkers and other criminals; law-enforcement officers who used that data without warrants or for their own illicit personal reasons; and even people posing as law-enforcement officers, when carriers simply failed to check their credentials.
As our complaint explains, the wireless giants’ cavalier attitude and reckless behavior in disclosing this information violates federal law in the Communications Act, and it puts people in harm’s way.
We wrote our complaint in response to multiple news reports revealing the dangers such sales pose to the public, with data ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others hoping to track people without their knowledge.
One Motherboard report exposed the ease with which a person could purchase location and tracking capabilities from a location aggregator for just $300. And these abuses of location data disproportionately impact people like domestic-violence survivors, whose safety depends on their ability to safeguard their whereabouts, and residents of communities of color that are frequently the targets of unwarranted surveillance and over-policing.
It’s the FCC’s responsibility to enforce the federal laws that protect people from wireless carriers’ unauthorized use of geolocation information. We urge the FCC to investigate these violations and stop wireless carriers from selling people’s location information without their consent.