FCC Broadband Test May Enable Warrantless Snooping, Coalition Warns

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 10, 2012 – Consumers who test their broadband connections on a government website may be turning over information that could allow law enforcement agencies to review their Internet activity without due process or judicial scrutiny.

A diverse coalition of public interest groups sent a letter today to Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to express strong concerns about the practice, which the FCC claims is legal and appropriate.

Information collected by the tests includes users’ IP addresses, street addresses, mobile handset latitude/longitude data and unique handset identification numbers.

“The potential for government to abuse citizens’ personal information poses a unique threat to individual freedom,” said Ryan Radia, associate director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Therefore, federal agencies bear a unique burden of justifying, disclosing and minimizing their collection and use of personal data.”

The coalition’s letter urges the FCC to carefully evaluate the privacy implications of its broadband testing program and implement measures to enhance privacy, including:

• Disclosing personal information to other government agencies for purposes unrelated to broadband testing only when doing so is required by law;

• Minimizing its collection and retention of potentially sensitive personal information (including street addresses and handset identification numbers);

• Where the collection of such information is justified, properly de-identifying the data to preserve its value and protect the identities of individuals and their locations;

• Regularly disclosing how personal information, including street addresses, is retained, used, and shared with other governmental agencies; and

• Imposing the same limits on the public disclosure of IP addresses by the FCC’s contractors, M-Lab and Ookla, and its other software partners.

The coalition’s letter also asks the FCC to post a prominent notice warning users how their personal information may be used and ensure this notice appears before the tests are administered.

The following organizations signed the letter to the FCC:

· Competitive Enterprise Institute

· Communications Liberty and Innovation Project

· TechFreedom

· Center for Media and Democracy

· Campaign for Liberty

· Institute for Liberty

· The Rutherford Institute

· Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights

· OpenTheGovernment.org

· Liberty Coalition

Read the coalition letter here.