TLPC Files Complaint Against Wireless Carriers Over Unauthorized Disclosure and Sale of Customer Location Information

Today, New America’s Open Technology Institute, the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, and Free Press, with the assistance of the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at Colorado Law, including Colorado Law 2L student attorneys Nathan Bartell and Zachary DeFelice, filed a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the sale and disclosure of customer location information by all four major U.S. wireless carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

As the complaint explains, the carriers’ practice of divulging private personal data—without customers’ consent or court orders permitting such disclosures—violates several duties these carriers have under the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules.

Over the past year, several news reports exposed the egregious practices of the country’s largest wireless providers, which routinely sold precise location data of millions of Americans to location aggregators. This real-time location data made its way into the hands of bounty hunters, stalkers, and others seeking to harass and harm unsuspecting individuals. These practices violate the Communications Act, create opportunities for abuse, and threaten wireless customers’ autonomy and safety—particularly for marginalized and vulnerable populations such as domestic violence survivors and people in over-policed communities of color.

The complaint requests that the FCC investigate these violations and take enforcement action against the improper disclosures of customers’ location data to third parties.

The following quote can be attributed to Eric Null, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“The wireless carriers have been engaging in serious violations of their customers’ privacy. But the law is clear on this issue: wireless carriers need consent from their customers before they can disclose customer location data to third parties. The carriers’ practices have been public for over a year now, and the FCC has been asleep at the wheel. The wireless carriers have violated the law, it’s time to hold them accountable.”

The following quote can be attributed to Laura Moy, executive director at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law:

“When you sign up for wireless service, you may realize that your provider has to be able to know where you are so that it can serve you wherever you go. What you don’t expect is for your provider to sell your location data to anyone with your phone number and a few dollars to spend—even a stalker, bounty hunter, or marketing company. But that’s exactly what all four of the major carriers have done, and it’s against the law.”

The following quote can be attributed to Gaurav Laroia, policy counsel at Free Press:

“Congress wrote laws saying that communications networks should improve people’s safety, not put them in harm’s way. But shocking news reports have shown the serious consequences of these carriers’ flippant disregard for their customers’ communications rights. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called upon the FCC to put a stop to this behavior, and wireless users can’t afford to wait for that relief any longer.”

The following quote can be attributed to Blake Reid, director of the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic and Counsel to the Center on Privacy and Technology:

“The non-consensual disclosure and sale of location information turns our mobile phones into devices that track our every move and make our whereabouts available for a fee. The FCC must ensure that this practice comes to an end for the sake of the privacy and safety of all Americans.”