FCC to fine four wireless carriers over $200m for location data violations

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing over $200 million fines against four of the largest wireless carriers in the US for location data violations.

According to the regulator, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, sold access to their customers’ location information without taking “reasonable measures to protect against unauthorised access to that information."

The Commission has proposed more than $57 million in fines against AT&T, more than $12 million against Sprint, more than $91 million against T-Mobile and more than $48 million for Verizon.

The size of the fines differs based on the length of time each carrier continued to sell access to its customer location information without reasonable safeguards and the number of entities each carrier continued to sell access to. 

“The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers’ personal information,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai. 

“And since 2007, these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don’t. Today, we do just that. This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans’ privacy at risk.”

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau started its investigation into these practices when reports that a Cory Hutcheson, a Missouri Sheriff, used a location-finding service operated by Securus, a provider of communications services to correctional facilities, to access the location information of the wireless carriers’ customers without their permission between 2014 and 2017. 

All of the aforementioned carriers have been found to have sold access to their customer’s location information to "aggregators" who then resold access to third-party location-based service providers like Securus. Each carrier relied on contract-based assurances that the aggregators would get content from the customer before accessing their information.

All four carriers have the opportunity to respond at which point the Commission will “consider the parties’ evidence and legal arguments before taking further action to resolve these matters”.

In related news, the small satellite operators have responded to the FCC’s plans for C-Band spectrum reallocation that was announced in November 2019.

"This Order is fatally flawed by its misinterpretations of the Communications Act, and by its numerous arbitrary and capricious conclusions,” said Jim Frownfelter, CEO and chairman of ABS. “The Small Satellite Operators are going to be harmed by the unlawful revocation of the right to use 60% of their licensed C-band spectrum, and we will ask the courts to overturn this Order and to instruct the FCC to start the entire process again."

Last month, Intelsat’s Steve Spengler said that his company was reserving judgement and that it was "looking forward to reviewing the draft order”.