FCC Chairman Declines to Brief Congress About Location Data Controversy

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Lawmakers wanted to hear from the FCC about the recent hot-button issue of mobile carriers selling location data to third parties.

Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday requesting an emergency briefing.

Pallone wanted to know what the FCC was doing to about mobile carriers' recently revealed practice of selling users' location data to third parties. 

Pai, however, said no, blaming the ongoing government shutdown.

“Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refused to brief Energy and Commerce Committee staff on the real-time tracking of cell phone location, as reported by Motherboard last week. In a phone conversation today, his staff asserted that these egregious actions are not a threat to the safety of human life or property that the FCC will address during the Trump shutdown," Pallone said in a statement.

Although the majority of its operations have ceased during the shutdown, some FCC employees have continued to work. This includes Pai and three FCC commissioners, Michael O'Rielly, Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel. The only activities that will continue during the shutdown are emergency services as well its 5G wireless spectrum auction. 

Pallone wasn't alone in his requests for the FCC to investigate the matter. Several senators expressed concerns over the selling of location data and called for an official FCC investigation.

One of those senators, Ron Wyden, D-Ore. expressed his disappointment at the FCC's decision not to brief the committee. 

"It's a new low for someone who has spent his tenure at the FCC refusing to do his job and stand up for American consumers," Wyden said to Gizmodo.

The FCC has responded to these criticisms. 

"The Commission has been investigating wireless carriers' handling of location information," a spokesperson said in a statement to CNET. "Unfortunately, we were required to suspend that investigation earlier this month because of the lapse in funding, and pursuant to guidance from our expert attorneys, the career staff that is working on this issue are currently on furlough."