Sen. Ron Wyden called on the FCC chairman to recuse himself from an investigation involving a prison phone company that’s been accused of helping police circumvent warrants in obtaining cellphone location data.
The Federal Communications Commission referred the phone-tracking matter, which involves Securus, an inmate calling service, to its enforcement bureau on Friday. The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, represented Securus while employed at law firm Jenner & Block, LLP, just prior to his confirmation as an FCC commissioner in 2012.
“Chairman Pai’s past work for Securus makes it untenable for Mr. Pai to lead this investigation,” Sen. Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in a statement to Gizmodo. “I call on Mr. Pai to do the responsible thing and recuse himself from the investigation.”
The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.
The investigation, which Wyden instigated last week, follows a New York Times report that unmasked Securus for having gained access to people’s location data via a loophole allowing some companies to obtain the information from cellphone providers. This is typically done for marketing purposes or to provide roadside assistance; however, Securus had instead been supplying the data to police, who might otherwise require a warrant.
“The location aggregation industry has operated with essentially no oversight by the Federal Communications Commission,” Wyden said. “The only real surprise is that it took this long for the public to learn that the wireless carriers and their business partners were demonstrating such a total disregard for Americans’ privacy and safety.”
Securus obtained its data from a mobile marketing firm called 3Cinteractive, which in turn received it from LocationSmart, a “location aggregator,” according to prison documents the Times obtained. LocationSmart is the actual subject of the FCC’s investigation; however, Wyden, in addition to requesting Pai’s recusal, is asking for the agency to expand the scope of its probe to include third parties like Securus that have purchased real-time location data on Americans.
Pai was previously accused of helping Securus, his former client, after the FCC abruptly dropped its defense of Obama-era regulations that had capped the costs of prison calls. The agency had been preparing a legal defense against arguments brought by inmate calling services, which claimed the regulations were beyond the scope of the FCC’s authority. After Pai took over as chairman, the FCC abandoned the case; the regulations were struck down by the D.C. federal appeals court in June.
Prior to the cap, private telecom companies were charging up to $14 per minute for inmate calls. Luckily for Securus, Pai apparently doesn’t give a shit about those people or their families.