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Democrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data

The Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee strongly criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday, accusing it of failing to enforce privacy laws and demanding action over a leak of consumer data.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Democrats, including Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), referenced an investigation opened by the FCC after The New York Times reported last year that major wireless carriers were disclosing real-time customer location data to third-party data aggregators without the consent of customers.

The committee members wrote that the agency is failing to enforce the Communications Act, which includes customer privacy rules, by not taking action around this incident, and requested an update on the FCC’s investigation.

“Despite announcing that it began an investigation into the wireless carriers after being made aware of the allegations in 2018, the FCC has failed, to date, to take any action. And now time is running out since the statute of limitations gives the FCC one year to act,” the committee members wrote. 

The committee members wrote that the cell phone carriers involved have stopped sharing location data with aggregators, but noted that this was done even though the FCC has not taken action. 

“We are concerned that the Commission is shirking its obligation to enforce the Communications Act and the rules it has issued to protect consumers’ privacy,” the committee members wrote. 

Other Democrats who signed the letter included Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Doris Matsui (Calif.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.), and Darren Soto (Fla.).

The group gave the FCC until Nov. 29 to respond with an update on its investigation. 

A spokesperson for the FCC told The Hill that the agency was reviewing the letter but did not comment further. 

The letter to Pai on Friday is not the first time members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked the FCC to take action to secure customer data in the wake of the 2018 incident. 

Pallone previously asked for a briefing from the FCC in January to understand why the agency had not taken steps to end the sharing of real-time customer location data. Pallone, along with Doyle, wrote again to the FCC in February after the agency refused to give the committee a briefing on the unauthorized data disclosure incident.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also been a key player in the ongoing privacy debate, with the committee holding hearings on the subject this year, and top Democrats working to put together an overarching privacy bill.

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