Proposed Legislation to Protect Cellphone Privacy Has Broad Public Support

In a world where privacy seems to be continually decreasing, one man has dared to fight back. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) plans to make a push for regulations protecting cellphone users from government data-gathering programs.

Changes Markey hopes to introduce include: requiring law enforcement to get a warrant before obtaining cellphone data locations, requiring the FCC to limit how long carriers can keep certain information, and requiring law enforcement personnel to submit a signed and sworn statement when acquiring information from carriers.

While it’s too early to know for sure how Markey’s efforts will be received by the U.S. government and the American people, Hanni M. Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is “cautiously and hopefully optimistic” about these regulations.

“There have been similar proposals floated in the past in Congress, but I think we’re at a watershed moment right now,” he said. “There is growing outcry about the NSA surveillance and that, in turn, has put renewed focus and attention on domestic law enforcement collection too.”

Data from Gallup seems to support Fakhoury’s description of a “growing outcry.” A June report showed that 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the federal government’s surveillance activities, while only 37 percent approve.

As with any effort to limit government power, opposition is to be expected.

“You’ll definitely see law enforcement opposition to anything that restricts their access to this data,” Fakhoury said. He also suggested that telecommunications companies “won’t care one way or the other as long as they’re not saddled with any new burdens — such as a reporting requirement — or costs.”

However, congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who says he and colleagues have also been working on this issue, pointed out that this is not just about limiting law enforcement’s access to private data. Steps should be taken, he suggested, to protect this data from criminals, businesses, and others.

While this year may be coming to a close, Fakhoury hopes that next year will be a big one for privacy advocates.

“I think more states will join the fray in 2014 and hopefully that will trickle down to federal lawmakers too. People are outraged, and lawmakers are dragging their feet to finally respond to the concerns of citizens.”

IVN also contacted representatives from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, but they were unavailable to comment at the time of this article’s publication.