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FCC Rejects New Cell Phone Privacy Rules

July 26, 2002|ELIZABETH DOUGLASS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal regulators Thursday rejected an appeal to strengthen privacy protections for consumers who use cell phones that track their location.

The move surprised both privacy advocates and the mobile phone industry, which had formed an unusual alliance in asking the Federal Communications Commission to clarify the privacy rights of wireless users.

But the FCC turned down the request, saying existing law provides consumers with enough protection to control how and when information about their location is gathered by and shared with companies. The commission also said location-finding technologies are in their infancy and should not yet be bound by new regulation.

Critics say current law leaves many matters unresolved, such as whether a company must get permission each time it uses a customer's data and whether other wireless devices, such as hand-held computers and the OnStar communication system built into some cars, would be covered by the law.

"We've seen the tremendous pressure to sell personal information on the Internet, where a customer's personal information may be a company's most valuable asset," said Commissioner Michael J. Kopps, the lone dissenter. "We should learn from the Internet privacy situation and protect telephone customers from similar pressures."

To improve emergency services, cell phone carriers are installing technology that can more precisely locate phone users. The carriers plan to capitalize on the technology by selling services that would detect a user's location and provide directions to the closest ATM.

Under existing law, with the exception of 911 calls, companies must have the customer's approval before they use or share information about his location.

Times staff writer Jube Shiver Jr. contributed to this report.

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