Published: March 2014

Stringent telecom carrier safeguards needed to protect consumer privacy

Coalition: Public Knowledge

The Communications Act allows the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect the sharing of consumers' telecom data without consumers' explicit consent. The telecom industry would like the FCC to leave it up to carriers to interpret and implement these protections. In comments to the FCC, Consumer Action and privacy advocates urge the federal agency to protect telecom customers' private information - establishing contractual protections for shared private information is not the same thing as getting customers' consent to share their data.

Consumers know from their monthly bills that telephone carriers track every telephone number called, the duration of the call and when the call is made. Records may also include information about calls received. Since 1996, federal communications laws have required telephone companies protect the confidentiality of your telephone calls. Under the law, carriers are obligated to ensure that your Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) is not disclosed to third parties without your consent.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Telephone carriers and the third parties they work with, stand to gain a lot of money by sharing your telecom information for marketing purposes. Carriers and third party marketers argue consumer phone records can be de-identified, leaving individual characteristics in tact (age range, region, income) without being individually identifiable (exact name, exact address, birth date, social security number). But by all accounts, selling illegally obtained telephone records was a booming business by the late 1990s.

Consumer privacy advocates and government officials alike agree on two points:

   - There is no legal way to obtain someone else’s telephone records without that person’s permission
   - The only source for data brokers is the telephone carriers themselves

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) invited public comments on a petition requesting the FCC to rule that the sale of consumer phone records to the government is a violation of the federal Communications Act. Consumer Action joined the petition, which was organized by Public Knowledge. In its comments the advocates urge the FCC to require telecom carriers to adopt more stringent security measures such as consumer-set passwords, an audit trail, and notice to consumers of an unauthorized access.


Lead Organization

Public Knowledge

Other Organizations

Benton Foundation | Center for Digital Democracy | Center for Media Justice | Common Cause | Consumer Action | Electronic Frontier Foundation | Electronic Privacy Information Center | Free Press | New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute | U.S. PIRG

More Information

For more information, please visit Public Knowledge.

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Stringent telecom carrier safeguards needed to protect consumer privacy   (2014-03-FCC-CPNI-reply-final.pdf)




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