On October 24, the FCC, over the dissent of its two Republican commissioners, issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) proposing a fine of $10 million to Lifeline eligible telecommunications carriers (“ETCs”) TerraCom, Inc. and YourTel America, Inc. for violations of laws protecting “phone customers’ personal information.”
This is the agency’s first data security case and the largest privacy action in the Commission’s history. See News Release. Friday’s decision follows through on numerous public statements made by FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc indicating that privacy and security is a high enforcement priority for the Commission and that the agency would begin to use a Communications Act provision barring unjust and unreasonable practices as a privacy and security enforcement tool.
According to the NAL, the Enforcement Bureau investigation found that both TerraCom and YourTel “collected names, addresses, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and other proprietary information” gathered through the Lifeline eligibility approval process “and stored them on unprotected Internet servers that anyone in the world could access with a search engine and basic manipulation.” The NAL states that the TerraCom and YourTel violations exposed more than 300,000 customers’ personal information to unauthorized access as well as heightened risk of fraud and identity theft.