On May 8, 2018, Senator Ron Wyden (D–OR) demanded that the Federal Communications Commission investigate the alleged unauthorized tracking of Americans’ locations by Securus Technologies, a company that provides phone services to prisons, jails and other correctional facilities. Securus allegedly purchases real-time location data from a third-party location aggregator and provides the data to law enforcement without obtaining judicial authorization for the disclosure of the data. In turn, the third-party location aggregator obtains the data from wireless carriers. Federal law restricts how and when wireless carriers can share certain customer information with third parties, including law enforcement. Wireless carriers are prohibited from sharing certain customer information, including location data, unless the carrier has obtained the customer’s consent or the sharing is otherwise required by law.
To access real-time location data from Securus, Senator Wyden’s letter alleges, correctional officers can enter any U.S. wireless phone number and upload a document purporting to be an “official document giving permission” to obtain real-time location data about the wireless customer. According to the letter, Securus does not take any steps to verify that the documents actually provide judicial authorization for the real-time location surveillance. The letter requests that the FCC investigate Securus’ practices and the wireless carriers’ failure to maintain exclusive control over law enforcement access to their customers’ location data. The letter also calls for a broader investigation into the customer consent that each wireless carrier requires from other companies before sharing customer location information and other data. Separately, Senator Wyden also sent a letter to the major wireless carriers requesting an investigation into the safeguards in place to prevent the unauthorized sharing of wireless customer information.
In response, the FCC confirmed that it has opened an investigation into LocationSmart, reportedly the third-party vendor that sold the location data to Securus. Senator Wyden provided comment to the website Ars Technica that the “location aggregation industry” has functioned with “essentially no oversight,” and urged the FCC to “expand the scope of this investigation and to more broadly probe the practice of third parties buying real-time location data on Americans.”