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Selling 911 location data is illegal—US carriers reportedly did it anyway

Published: February 16, 2019
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Source: arstechnica.com

Three of the four major wireless carriers have been accused of breaking US law by selling 911 location data to third parties.

"Telecom giants broke the law by selling detailed location data" that was "meant for use only by emergency services," consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said last week in a blog post that urged the Federal Communications Commission to punish the carriers.

"Around 250 bounty hunters and related businesses had access to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customer location data, according to documents obtained by Motherboard," the article said. "The documents also show that telecom companies sold data intended to be used by 911 operators and first responders to data aggregators, who sold it to bounty hunters. The data was in some cases so accurate that a user could be tracked to specific spots inside a building."

This included assisted GPS (A-GPS) data, which T-Mobile once described as "the foundation of wireless E911 location for both indoor and outdoor locations."

"Between at least 2012 until it closed in late 2017, a now-defunct data seller called CerCareOne allowed bounty hunters, bail bondsmen, and bail agents to find the real-time location of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint mobile phones," Motherboard wrote. "The company would sometimes charge up to $1,100 per phone location, according to a source familiar with the company."

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