Ajit Pai’s corruption is a liability to the Republican Party

It isn’t exactly breaking news to say that cell phone companies don’t care about you. They want to squeeze as much money from you as possible, so they’ll charge you hundreds of dollars in hidden fees. They’ll tell you that you don’t really want easy-to-understand unlimited data plans. And — of course — they’ll lie through their teeth about net neutrality.

But now they’ve done something even worse and it’s against the law. They’ve sold your personal information — including your sensitive location data — to third parties who resell your information again and again and again. For just $300, literally anyone can find out where you are in real time. And this is far from an isolated incident: entire industries have relied on accessing this data for years.

Unfortunately, our corrupt FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has failed to take concrete action to stop this, which really means he’s refusing to uphold the law. Just how long are members of Congress — especially the Republicans who supported his nomination — going to let him get away with this?

Chairman of the FCC — and former Verizon lawyer — Ajit Pai

The law is clear

This isn’t just another case of a big company acting sleazy for a few extra bucks. This is a dangerous business practice that puts everyday Americans at risk of fraud, identity theft and physical harm. That’s why it’s illegal.

Back in 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated their rules to prevent cell phone companies from sharing sensitive information about its customers without their consent. Specifically, Section 222 of the Communications Act states that:

Except as required by law or with the approval of the customer, a telecommunications carrier that receives or obtains customer proprietary network information by virtue of its provision of a telecommunications service shall only use, disclose, or permit access to individually identifiable customer proprietary network information in its provision of (A) the telecommunications service from which such information is derived, or (B) services necessary to, or used in, the provision of such telecommunications service.

Simply put, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile aren’t allowed to share any information that can be used to identify you unless it’s in the service of completing your calls or providing emergency assistance. These companies have broken the law, and they’ve been breaking the law for years.

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

Ajit Pai refuses to enforce the law

When a telecommunications company is suspected of breaking the law, the FCC conducts an investigation into the matter. If the FCC finds that a company has indeed broken the law, they can levy fines or otherwise punish the company for flouting the rules. And this is exactly what has happened in the past.

Unfortunately, Ajit Pai — a former Verizon lawyer — has a solid track record of ignoring the facts to give the telecoms whatever they want. Originally, he said that the government shutdown prevented him from meeting with Congressional lawmakers, even though he was not furloughed as part of the shutdown. Later, he claimed that the FCC was already investigating the issue — though, as the folks at Motherboard note, it’s unclear whether the FCC is investigating this new case or a similar one from last year.

If we don’t act, it’s doubtful that any FCC investigation led by Pai will result in penalties against big telecoms. More likely, Pai will try to shift the blame to the middlemen who have been reselling the location data. Or he could claim that there’s no action necessary now that the telecoms have promised to stop this dangerous practice… despite the fact that they’ve made (and broken) this same promise before.

If Pai is not willing to enforce the rules and protect our privacy, this would be unprecedented corruption from the leader of the FCC, and the Republicans who supported his nomination will find themselves facing a crisis.

Congress is taking action … will you?

Congressional lawmakers are rightly outraged that Chairman Pai’s latest efforts to protect corporate profits at the expense of our safety. Led by Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the House Commerce Committee has announced its intent to assert its oversight role over the FCC and begun scheduling hearings to investigate the FCC’s behavior across a number of issues.

More people contacting their lawmakers means more lawmakers will support efforts to investigate the continued abuse of our personal data, making it less likely that the FCC will be able to ignore this dangerous business practice. Sign our petition to let your Senators and Representatives know how important this issue is to you and help hold FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to account for telecoms breaking the law.

Photo by Jomar on Unsplash

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