For immediate release: February 9, 2023


Re: Protect Privacy in Post-Roe era

Dear Members of the United States Senate,

We write to urge the United States Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn to the fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before the end of March. Without her confirmation, the FCC will remain deadlocked and unable to protect consumer privacy and safety. Crucially, there are several things that the FCC could do to protect the safety and rights of people seeking, providing, and facilitating abortion care. But they can’t do any of them until the commission is fully staffed.

The Biden administration’s priorities, including restoring net neutrality and enacting privacy rules, have stalled for over two years. In that time, telecom giants and Big Tech have only scaled up their collection and retention of an astonishingly unnecessary amount of customer data, including the locations and search histories of individual people.

This mass surveillance dragnet is not only harmful to the public at large and our democracy—it puts the lives of abortion patients and providers in danger. The FCC has clear authority over restricting these abusive data collection practices. But with Sohn still waiting to break the current deadlock, it cannot act.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, unregulated data collection has reached a point of crisis. Our country’s lack of constitutional privacy protections now enables the mass-scale tracking and criminalization of those seeking abortion healthcare. Location data from cell phones can be used as evidence to prosecute those who travel out of state to get an abortion. The carriers who currently hoard this data will comply with “valid legal requests” from state governments, even if those legal requests are clearly immoral and related to persecuting people for seeking reproductive healthcare.

It is extremely important that the FCC act swiftly to reduce the amount of intimate personal data that wireless carriers and Big Tech are allowed to collect and retain. Sohn is the right person for this job. She has spent the bulk of her career defending privacy rights and consumer safety.

Without Sohn, the FCC’s lack of voting majority enables a data free-for-all on our mobile devices. Much of the data that carriers and Big Tech hoard is completely unnecessary for purposes of delivering mobile broadband, cell phone, or app services. Such data is collected because app developers, data brokers, and advertising firms pay a premium for it and face no restrictions on its use. For example, in 2016 an advertising company working with anti-abortion groups used“mobile geo-fencing” to pinpoint the location of women sitting in a Planned Parenthood waiting room, and sent them anti-choice ads in an attempt to dissuade them from getting an abortion.

States including Texas and Oklahoma have passed so-called “vigilante” laws that empower civilians to actively investigate each other for aiding, abetting, or obtaining an abortion. Right now, for a relatively low cost, anyone can pay a data broker to access millions of cell phone users’ geolocation data. This broad attack surface poses a threat to the public at large. In 2019, an investigation by Motherboard revealed that for as little as $300, an individual could hire a bounty hunter to geolocate a phone. In a separate 2022 investigation, Motherboard purchased the location data of visitors to 600 Planned Parenthood locations over the course of one week for $160.

The FCC should already have moved to rein in such abuses. It possesses broad authority to crack down and enforce net neutrality, mandate broadband privacy, and end the totally unnecessary and egregious collection and sale of our intimate personal data. Civil rights groups in particular have been warning the government for years that the blanket surveillance hidden in our everyday devices poses a substantial threat to privacy rights, personal safety, and the lives of Black and brown people. It’s far past time to confirm a fifth Commissioner with a track record of listening to traditionally marginalized people and defending everyone’s basic human right to privacy. Absent Sohn’s speedy appointment, the FCC will continue to do nothing, and that is unconscionable.

At a time when core privacy rights are being challenged and in some cases decimated, a kneecapped FCC is the last problem we should have. The Senate must take action to confirm Sohn and in doing so, it will be signaling that clear parameters are needed to protect consumers from being involuntarily recorded or tracked. Continued failure to appoint Sohn will result in unjust arrests and the proliferation of a surveillance state that jeopardizes the lives of many thousands of people.


Fight for the Future, Accountable Tech, Advocacy for Principled Action in Government, Aspiration, California LGBT Arts Alliance, Defending Rights & Dissent, Digital Defense Fund, Digital Equity Research Center, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), FREE! Families Rally for Emancipation and Empowerment, GLAAD, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, JusticeLA Coalition, Kairos Action, Lucy Parsons Labs, Media Alliance, MediaJustice, MPower Change Action Fund, Muslim Advocates, Muslim Counterpublics Lab, National Center for Transgender Equality, Open Markets Institute, OpenMedia, Privacy Right Clearinghouse, Pro-Choice North Carolina, Pro-Choice Washington, Progressive Technology Project, Public Citizen, Reframe Health and Justice, Restore The Fourth,, Secure Justice, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Tech for Good Asia, The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, The Tech Oversight Project, UCLA Center on Race & Digital Justice, UltraViolet Action, WA People’s Privacy, and Women’s March