Tech Groups Push FCC to Undo Phone Call Record Retention Regulation

A coalition of 38 technology, civil liberties and consumer rights groups is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to act on a petition that would end a rule requiring phone companies to retain call records for 18 months.

In letter to commissioners Monday, the groups argued the regulation is “unduly burdensome and ineffectual.” That line of argument corresponds to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s ongoing efforts to limit government regulation in telecommunications.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center led the August 2015 petition. A range of other groups have signed Monday’s letter, including Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and TechFreedom.

They argue the rule “violates customers’ privacy rights by requiring carriers to retain sensitive information about millions of Americans who are under no suspicion of wrongdoing,” and that the retained information is vulnerable to hacking.

The rule requires telephone service carriers to keep a swath of detailed information, including a customer’s name, address and telephone number as well as the date, time and length of each call.

Ashkhen Kazaryan, legal fellow at TechFreedom, said in a Monday statement that the FCC’s data retention rule is “woefully outdated” and “has eliminated any incentive for telecom companies to retain data they don’t need and that they struggle to keep secure — even though it would be cheaper for the carriers and preferable for users.”

The groups argue in the letter that the data retention rule “no longer serves a useful purpose” because few carriers still use per-call billing — instead offering bundled and flat-rate service plans. “The rule’s reliance on an outdated billing plan model increases costs, stifles innovation, and inhibits market competition by preventing carriers from competing on privacy,” the organizations noted.

Pai previously outlined similar beliefs regarding his goals for the FCC.

In a December 2016 speech, shortly before being named FCC chairman, Pai signaled his intent to “remove outdated and unnecessary regulations.” The FCC, he said, needs to “fire up the weed whacker” and remove rules holding back “investment, innovation and job creation.”

Pai’s chairmanship has been marked by a push to roll back regulations, with the intent of catalyzing private sector investment. Last week, Pai spearheaded votes to ease rules in the business data services and broadcast industries.

EPIC and the 37 other organizations argued Monday that the FCC failed to “promptly” issue a public notice after their petition for rulemaking was filed, as the agency’s rules stipulate. The groups requested the FCC docket the petition by May 8.

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Consumers Union.