#MobileLikeMe Takes it’s Message to the FCC

The fight to protect your “Free Data” was taken directly to the FCC on Thursday, October 27.  Despite the weather being a little cold and overcast, #MobileLikeMe was extremely effective in getting the message out that free data is important to consumers.

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The MobileLikeMe movement spread the word as curious passersby’s learned more about its mission and support for free data programs.  They soon realized the movement is dedicated to helping everyone  access the internet via their mobile devices through education, capitalization on innovative offerings, and elimination of regulatory and legislative obstacles.  In fact, by the days’ end, our message had gone viral and over 3 million people around the country had learned more about #MobileLikeMe.

With over 40,000 petitions in support of free data programs on display, the day was not only about letting the public know how MobileLikeMe is fighting to help consumers access the internet, it was also about letting the FCC commissioners know why accessing the internet (especially on cell phones/ tablets) is vital to people everywhere.  We were fortunate enough to meet with 4 out of the 5 FCC commissioners (Commissioner Pai, Wheeler, Rosenworcel, and Clyburn) all of whom provided great insights as to how we can help even more people.

This was truly a great day.  #MobileLikeMe will continue to spread the word and not only engage those who are “Mobile Like Me” –  millennials, people with lower income, and minorities, but also those who are yet to become Mobile Like Me. We will continue to meet with crucial decision makers to gain their support of our Mobile Like Me movement.

Clyburn Says She Won’t Vote to Ban Sponsored Data Offerings

FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn has always seen the bigger picture with regards to telecom issues and how they relate to and affect Americans who remain digitally divided. Recently, she once again stood up for those being left behind in our ever evolving digital world by stating her support of “sponsored data”

Sponsored data, or “zero-rated” content as the industry refers to it, are wireless service offerings in which service providers offer some services whose use is not counted against customers’ data usage plans. These plans have been criticized by some advocates of the FCC’s open Internet rules.

Clyburn has taken a more progressive and insightful approach to the issue. She sees it as an opportunity to once again get people online in the ways most accessible to them: mobile devices. Clyburn stated, “I usually don’t show my hand that explicitly but I’m doing so today.”

She continued, “Everyone in this nation should have the opportunity to lawfully express and expand themselves and their potential, and I think we have the capacity to continue to make that happen.”

Based on data from the Federal Communications Commission itself, 55 million Americans still lack broadband access at home. Many of those people are members of low-income communities, people of color, elderly, disabled, or people living in rural communities. It is untenable that nearly 20% of America’s citizenry lag behind their digitally connected counterparts.

Ms. Clyburn said that sponsored-data services are valuable because they could be “an affordable way for people to stream and connect with content” – including important services such as medical services – in “a non-economically punitive way.”

Critics fear that sponsored data or zero rating treads on Net Neutrality rules; however, Clyburn and other forward thinkers see sponsored data as a way to get smart-phone dependent Americans online without them having to worry about running up against data caps when they need access the most – medical services, education, employment, etc.

With regards to those who are wary of what sponsored data may look like Clyburn added that the FCC “will take a case-by-case approach” on sponsored-data offerings.  She also said that such offerings “could be the way for the next creative content provider that can’t get on the legacy platforms to do so.”

“We want product differentiation, we do not want any violation of open Internet rules,” she said, adding, “I think there is a way for us to walk and chew gum at the same time on that.”

FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police reaking law with use of stingray phone trackers

This article originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.

By Ian Duncan, Baltimore Sun

Civil rights groups complained to the FCC Tuesday over the Baltimore Police Department‘s use of the cell phone tracking technology known as stingray, alleging that the way police use it interferes with emergency calls and is racially discriminatory.

The complaint argues that the police department doesn’t have a proper license to use the devices and is in violation of federal law. It calls on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to step in and formally remind law enforcement agencies of the rules.

“The public is relying on the Commission to carry out its statutory obligation to do so, to fulfill its public commitment to do so, and to put an end to widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions made by BPD and other departments around the country,” the groups say in the complaint.

The case is being brought by Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The use of stingrays, also known as cell site simulators, was long shrouded in secrecy and many details about their use is still not publicly known. The devices work by imitating a cell phone tower so that nearby phones connect to them instead of the normal network, allowing police to gather information such as the location of a handset.

Police in Baltimore acknowledged in court last year that they had used the devices thousands of times to investigate crimes ranging from violent attacks to the theft of cellphones. Investigators had been concealing the technology from judges and defense lawyers and after the revelations Maryland’s second highest court ruled that police should get a warrant before using a Stingray.

Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, said the commission was reviewing the complaint. “The commission expects state and local law enforcement to work through the appropriate legal processes to use these devices,” he said.

The police department declined to comment citing the “pending litigation.”

Laura Moy, a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s law school who is representing the groups, said the complaint is being lodged against Baltimore Police because of the evidence of its prolific use of the devices.

“It seems quite likely that the Baltimore Police Department makes the heaviest use of this technology of any police department in the country,” Moy said.

Exactly what impact Stingrays have on cell phone usage is not fully publicly known but the complaint cites government documents and news accounts to allege that they disrupt calls and could prevent callers reaching 911. The interference from a single device could affect several city blocks, the complaint alleges.

Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, said there is good evidence that the devices interrupt cell phone service. In some configurations they mobile block data connections in order to force a phone to use a less secure connection, he said, and in other cases seem to block calls outright.

Because the devices have been hidden from public view, Soghoian said, it has been difficult for communities that are suffering from the disruptions to understand what is happening and hold the police accountable.

“If you can’t make calls, it’s not like your phone is going to pop up with a message saying sorry the Baltimore PD is using a stingray right now,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”

What’s more, the complaint argues, “these disruptions of the cellphone network—including of emergency calls—disproportionately harm the residents of Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods.”

The groups argue that surveillance using the devices also undermines people’s free speech rights and describe the use of Stingrays as an electronic form of the intrusive police practices described in the scathing Justice Department report on the police department’s pattern of civil rights violations.

“The problem of radicalized surveillance is particularly pronounced in Baltimore, where BPD’s racially biased policing is clearly reflected in its racially biased deployment of [cell site] simulators,” the groups say in the complaint.