January 24, 2019

Senators Call on FCC and FTC to Investigate How Wireless Carriers Sold American’s Mobile Phone Locations To Data Brokers, Bounty Hunters and Shady Middlemen

Following Multiple Media Reports of Misuse, 15 Senators Demand Federal Agencies Investigate How Wireless Companies Share Location Data

Washington, D.C. –A group of 15 senators today called on the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to investigate how wireless carriers allowed third parties – including data brokers and bounty hunters – to track Americans’ cell phones without consent. 

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote to the FTC and FCC, asking for a full investigation of the data-sharing arrangements that allowed for the apparently widespread sale and sharing of Americans’ cell phone locations.

“A recent investigation published by Motherboard… demonstrated not only that the wireless carriers are still failing to protect their customers’ private information, but also that location data can be purchased by stalkers, domestic abusers, and others,” the senators wrote today. “It is clear that these wireless carriers have failed to regulate themselves or police the practices of its business partners, and, in failing to do so, have needlessly exposed American consumers to serious harm.” 

Read the full letter here

The tech website Motherboard found that carriers sold phone tracking services to bounty hunters and other shady users, without permission of their customers. Sen. Wyden and The New York Times revealed in May 2018 that carriers allowed a prison phone company to track American’s cell phones, without warrants or court orders. Following that revelation, KrebsOnSecurity reported that major location aggregator LocationSmart offered access to track any American’s mobile phone via an insecure website.