Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On the Apparently Unmoving FCC Investigation Into Phone Carriers Selling Subscriber Location Data

Dell Cameron, Gizmodo:

How the intimate data exchanging hands in these back-alley deals compares in size and scale to, say, what Cambridge Analytica acquired on Facebook users in 2016 is ultimately made irrelevant by the fact that it’s a thousand times more sensitive. This is data meant for hunting people down. In the most outrageous case documented by the press so far, a Motherboard reporter managed to pay a bounty hunter $300 to put a trace on a cellphone in New York. The coordinates he received provided accurate up to around a quarter mile. As one Democrat on the FCC put it, the trade in Americans’ location data is “a personal and national security issue that affects every American with a cell phone.”

There’s little evidence that it’s being treated as such. Lawmakers on Wednesday openly scolded [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai over his handling of the investigation, which is thought to be nearing the end of its first year. (It remains unclear when the investigation was actually started.) During questioning, he refused outright to say whether he’d share basic information about the investigation with the FCC’s two Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks.

Who knows? This could all be nothing; Pai’s office could just be bad at email. In that case, I sympathize.

But if this is a case of what appears to be partisan nonsense, it’s deeply troubling. These carriers were providing third parties access to customers’ real-time location data. That’s an unconscionable violation of privacy; I don’t think anyone would disagree. It would be an egregious breach of duty for the FCC investigate this without urgency or priority.

Of course, this is the Republican Party serving the doctrine of Donald Trump, so there are always gratuitous conflicts of interest or the potential for grift:

Statutorily, the FCC has one year in most cases from the date of a violation to issue a notice of apparent liability. Neither commissioner can say whether the statute of limitation has expired on any particular infraction. But notably, more than a year has passed since Senator Ron Wyden first wrote to the FCC demanding this investigation take place. A New York Times expose about a business that sold phone-tracking services to state law enforcement officials without a warrant turned a year old last week. (Pai, incidentally, represented that business — Securus Technologies — seven years ago, while working in private practice.)