May 11, 2018

Wyden Demands FCC Investigate Unauthorized Location Tracking of Americans’ Cell Phones

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., demanded the Federal Communications Commission and wireless phone companies investigate the unauthorized and likely-illegal tracking of Americans’ mobile phones by a company that provides phone services to prisons, jails and other correctional facilities, in a letter this week.

Wireless carriers are allowed to provide real-time location data to law-enforcement agencies only after those agencies obtain a court order. The wireless companies are also required to examine the court order to determine that it is valid, before turning over their customers' location information. However, Wyden discovered that the prison phone provider Securus Technologies knowingly allows its government clients to track Americans without verifying that the prison guards and sheriffs who use the service had valid court orders.

"I recently learned that Securus Technologies, a major provider of correctional-facility telephone services, purchases real-time location information from major wireless carriers and provides the information, via a self-service web portal, for nothing more than the legal equivalent of a pinky promise,” Wyden wrote. “This practice skirts wires carriers’ legal obligation to be the sole conduit by which the government conducts surveillance of Americans’ phone records, and needlessly exposes millions of Americans to potential abuse and surveillance by the government.”

The New York Times today reported that a former sheriff’s official in Missouri was charged for allegedly conducting illegal surveillance, including tracking the location of a judge, through this tracking service.

“It is incredibly troubling that Securus provides location data to the government at all, let alone that it does so without a verified court order or other legal process,” Wyden wrote.

Wyden also wrote to the major U.S. wireless carriers, asking them to investigate what, if any, safeguards they have in place to prevent this kind of abuse of Americans’ security and privacy. Wyden also asked them for a list of all the private companies to which they have provided customer location data, and demanded that they provide consumers with information revealing which companies have obtained their location data.