Last year’s Carrier IQ controversy may be getting some legislative help in the form of a law that would require the explicit consent of a mobile device owner before such monitoring software could be used.
The Carrier IQ controversy broke out in December 2011 after a security researcher noted a number of wireless devices include software that, without the owners’ knowledge, would record details about call and data connections, dropped calls, locations and other phone-centric information.
Carriers admitted using Carrier IQ, including Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T, which said they use the software to improve call quality. However, tests at the time demonstrated that a great deal more than call quality information could be reported by the Carrier IQ software, including phone numbers called and the content of text messages. One company, Research in Motion, said it did not authorize such software to be installed on BlackBerry devices and provided instructions for removing it.
Now, Mass. Rep. Edward Markey, co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, a bipartisan committee in the House of Representatives, has released the first draft of a proposed bill that would require customers to give express permission for such monitoring when the phone is sold or when the software is installed if it takes place after the sale. The law, to be called the Mobile Device Privacy Act, also would place information security requirements on such monitoring that would require disclosure and place limitations on the use of the information gathered by such software.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would administer regulations under the Act, and phone companies would be required to report their activities to the FTC as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Violations of this law would be treated as unfair and deceptive business practices and violations of the Communications Act of 1934.
Assuming this law sees the light of day -- which could happen and more likely after the presidential election -- wireless customers would at least be aware their devices are being monitored. However, it’s also possible the notification could show up in those endless pages of fine print consumers have to sign to get a phone, and agreeing to them could be a condition of sale, meaning consumers would have no choice if they want a mobile phone. Still, Rep. Markey’s bill is a good move in the right direction, if only so you’ll know whether your phone is monitored and give you a chance to find another phone – or another carrier.