FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai has refused to meet with Congress in an Emergency briefing, regarding the recent scandal about carriers selling location-data. Pai blamed it on the government shutdown – which is now in its fourth week – even though he has not been furloughed and is still being paid.
The Committee on Energy and Commerce chairman, Representative Frank Pallone requested that Pai attend an emergency briefing, so that lawmakers can find out why carriers have been allowed to sell location-data to other companies. This of course comes after the investigative piece out of Motherboard last week, where they were able to track someone's phone using a bail bond agent and $300 – spoiler: it was super easy and quick.
In the letter, Rep. Pallone noted that bad actors are able to use this information to track anyone. He also noted that this meeting cannot wait until the government is reopened – because who knows when that will be. Pai turned down the invitation to brief the committee on the issue, however. Making it clear that Pai does not feel that this is as serious an issue as members of the committee seem to think it is. Pallone said that he spoke with Pai's staff over the phone who "asserted that these egregious actions are not a threat to the safety of human life or property that the FCC will address during the Trump shutdown."
The government shutdown is a partial shutdown. Congress is still in session (and getting paid), and so is the FCC Chairman, meaning that Pai has no legal reason to turn down the invitation. This is something that Pallone made clear when speaking with the media as well. Stating that "there's nothing in the law that should stop the chairman personally from meeting about this serious threat".
As expected, Pallone and the rest of the committee, are keen to know what Pai and the rest of the FCC are planning to do to fix the issues that these carriers caused. This is another way that Pai is looking to side-step actually doing his job. He recently pulled out of an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, due to the government shutdown – though there are conspiracy theories abound that this was more about him being afraid to speak with tech enthusiasts after how he dismantled Net Neutrality.
The wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – have been more proactive with this issue than the FCC. AT&T and T-Mobile said that they will stop providing location-data of its customers to location aggregators beginning in March. The three-month time-frame is set so that the carriers can make sure that this won't affect any other services it offers its customers, like navigation. A feature that AT&T does use, though there aren't many customers that actually use it.
Verizon begun eliminating these location aggregators last year, and are virtually aggregator-free. Though, Sprint has not yet responded, so it's unclear whether Sprint is eliminating its partnership with location aggregators or not. Something else that the committee likely wants to talk to Pai about.