CPUC Ignores Cell Phone Privacy
On January 16, 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission majority voted to bury their heads in the sand regarding cell phone privacy.
Commission President Mike Peevey and Commissioner Carla Peterman joined Commissioner Mark Ferron in voting 3-2 to approve Commissioner Ferron’s proposed decision denying the existence of any cell phone privacy concerns. Commissioners Catherine Sandoval and Mike Florio voted no, expressing their preference to approve an alternate proposed decision inked by Commissioner Sandoval. The Sandoval proposal would have acknowledged that privacy-invading smart phone technologies in use today are vastly different than those that existed in the copper wired world of 28 years ago, when the PUC last addressed telecom privacy.
The vote concludes CPUC consideration of a petition the Consumer Federation of California (CFC), The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) filed over a year ago, asking the CPUC to revamp outdated telecom privacy rules.
At the time of the last CPUC privacy review, about one in seven hundred Americans had a mobile phone. Today the number of cell phones in operation exceeds the total population of the United States. Smart phones enable mobile carriers to collect, store, and use a subscriber’s personal information, regardless of the customer’s knowledge or consent. Sprint, AT&T and other phone companies sold over 140 million smart phones embedded with Carrier IQ software that records customer address books, downloads, and the content of text messages. Commissioner Sandoval’s proposed decision also noted that another program embedded in smart phones allows Verizon Wireless to record information about customer website visits, as well as the customer’s location and demographic background, for potential sale to businesses including malls, stadiums and billboard owners.
Commissioner Sandoval’s proposed decision would not have established any specific privacy rules. It would merely have opened a rulemaking proceeding to investigate more fully the privacy threats that exist today. In any proceeding, phone companies, consumers and privacy experts would have had ample opportunity to present facts and arguments for or against any specific privacy regulation the Commission might draft. The vote by Commissioners Ferron, Peevey and Peterman is a gift to Verizon, AT&T and other big phone corporations and a slap in the face of millions of California consumers.
PUC blocks effort to enhance cell phone privacy, San Francisco Chronicle