April 29, 2024

Wyden Praises FCC Fines on Wireless Carriers in Response to His Investigation into Abuse of Location Data

Wyden Revealed in 2018 that Wireless Carriers Shared Detailed Location Data With Shady Data Brokers; Bounty Hunters and Jealous Boyfriends Abused The

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today praised the Federal Communications Commission for voting today to approve fines against AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, for selling customers’ detailed location data to shady data brokers in violation of federal law.

Wyden originally revealed the practice in 2018 and called on the FCC to investigate wireless carriers for betraying their customers’ privacy and security. Wyden revealed that one government contractor that purchased the data created a self-service website, through which government officials could access location data of any phone in the U.S. without a court order. Follow-up reporting revealed that this self-service website was abused by a local sheriff to track judges and other law enforcement officials, by a U.S. Marshal, who was subsequently prosecuted by the Department of Justice, for tracking former romantic partners and their spouses. Data brokers also resold the location data to more than 250 bounty hunters.

The FCC announced fines of $91 million against T-Mobile, $57 million for AT&T, $48 million for Verizon, and $12 million for Sprint. T-Mobile acquired Sprint in 2020. 

No one who signed up for a cell plan thought they were giving permission for their phone company to sell a detailed record of their movements to anyone with a credit card ,” Wyden said. “I applaud the FCC for following through on my investigation and holding these companies accountable for putting customers’ lives and privacy at risk.

Since 2018 Wyden has revealed numerous privacy abuses by corporations and the government, including how pharmacies hand over medical records to law enforcement without a warrant, how a data broker used data from phone apps to target women who visit Planned Parenthood with misinformation about abortion, mass surveillance of money orders by an unusual State-Federal task force, and successfully pushed a database of water, power and other utilities information to stop selling users’ data to the Immigrations and Customs enforcement. 

On April 17, 2024, the House of Representatives passed the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from buying location data and other sensitive information about Americans, without a court order.