A bipartisan group of legislators has asked four major U.S. carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint – to clarify what methods are used to track the whereabouts of subscribers.
Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, also asked the carriers to describe how cell phone location data is stored.
The newfound attention to the matter comes after the New York Times published a story about Deutsche Telekom, which stored data about Green Party politician Malte Spitz over a six-month period – apparently logging over 35,000 longitude and latitude coordinates.
This gross violation of personal privacy will hopefully prompt law makers to establish exactly when and for what reason carriers can track customers, in addition to how the data can be legally used or stored.
Indeed, the letters asked the four CEOs to “describe the policies and procedures your company utilizes to comply with Section 222 of the Communications Act.”
The act that the representatives are referring to requires “express prior authorization of the customer for use, disclosure of or access to the customer’s location information for commercial purposes.”
Beyond description of policies, Markey and Barton asked the companies to detail data storage methods, including the length of time such location information remains archived.
The two legislators also requested clarification about “any other mechanisms” related to location, such as “how frequently the customers checks her email” and why.
In addition, Markey and Barton want to know if the location data is exploited for marketing purposes, and if the companies make “common practice . . . to inform the customer when data is being collected and how [it] is being used.”
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile were given 15 day to respond to the query. Based on their responses, the representatives could take further action to introduce laws geared towards protecting consumers from similar unwarranted tracking like in the case of Maltz Spitz.