Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Fines against four major cellphone carriers could top $200 million, Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai suggested Friday.
The FCC said a lengthy investigation concluded that T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon improperly sold access to their customers' real-time location information. It alleges that the companies violated the law by failing to protect the geolocation information of hundreds of millions of customers.
"The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers' personal information," Pai said. "And since these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don't. Today, we do just that," Pai said.
The penalties will potentially be among the largest the agency has ever imposed, and the first time it has taken action on the matter. Details of customers' locations are a factor in an ongoing debate over privacy issues. Information on personal relationships, and even doctor visits, can be revealed, for example. While app makers routinely obtain and sell customer data, the telecommunications sector is confined by more stringent customer confidentiality laws.
"It puts the safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone at risk," FCC Commisioner Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a statement last month about the agency's investigation.
In January, a letter from Pai to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., confirmed that the investigation had concluded and that "one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law."
The letter did not mention if a financial penalty would be assessed. The companies involved will be allowed to argue against the fines.