17:38, May 15 174 0 abajournal.com

2018-05-15 17:38:07
Senator asks pointed questions about telecom company’s sale of cellphone location data

According to the New York Times, CNET and the UK’s The Register, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has written to the Federal Communications Commission and several mobile phone carriers to ask for an investigation into the practice by prison telecommunications company Securus of selling real-time cellphone location data to law enforcement officers.

Securus is able to do that because major mobile phone companies sell their users’ real-time location data. This is generally used by advertisers and marketers to target ads, CNET explains, but Securus is reselling it to law enforcement officers instead. Securus requires those officers to upload a warrant or other official document, but Wyden says Securus officials told his office that they never check to make sure the uploaded document is a legitimate warrant. In a May 8 letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Wyden called this “nothing more than the legal equivalent of a pinky promise.”

“Securus claimed, incorrectly, that correctional facilities, not Securus, must ensure that correctional officers don’t abuse the Web portal,” says Wyden’s letter to Pai. In fact, the letter says, federal law requires wireless carriers to verify law enforcement requests and make sure they’re the only conduit for obtaining that information.

Securus told CNET last week that Wyden’s letter contained “multiple inaccuracies and misleading statements.” It says it has taken steps to make sure its service is used appropriately, including user agreements requiring that only law enforcement use the service, as well as training for customers on the need to provide proper documentation.

The information-sharing is not just with jailers, and there’s already evidence that it has been misused. The New York Times notes that a former sheriff from Missouri, Cory Hutcheson, used the Securus service to track people, including a judge and several state Highway Patrol officers without a court order. Hutcheson lost his job as sheriff after an unrelated death of an inmate, and is being sued by the Highway Patrol officers as well as being prosecuted in state and federal court. His attorney declined to comment to the Times.

Wyden also wrote to wireless carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon about the practice. His letter to AT&T says the Securus business “suggests that AT&T does not sufficiently control access to your customers’ private information.” He requested an investigation and that the company terminate relationships with third parties who are abusing their access to location data. All three carriers told the New York Times they were investigating; a Verizon spokesman said the company would take steps to stop the information-sharing if it found that data was being misused.

Lawyers interviewed by the New York Times disagreed about whether privacy protections in the Telecommunications Act apply to information not connected to a phone call.The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case about whether the police must get a warrant to receive cell phone location data, Carpenter v. United States.