We all know that, in the 21st century, it is difficult to lead a life without a cell phone. It is also difficult to change your number—the one all your friends, family, doctors, children’s schools, and so on—have for you. It’s especially difficult to do these things if you are trying to leave an abusive situation where your abuser is in control of your family plan and therefore has access to your phone records. Thankfully, Congress has a bill that will change that.
In August 2020, EFF joined with the Clinic to End Tech Abuse and other groups dedicated to protecting survivors of domestic violence to send a letter to Congress, calling them to pass a federal law that creates the right to leave a family mobile phone plan that they share with their abuser.
This January, Senators Brian Schatz, Deb Fischer, Richard Blumenthal, Rick Scott, and Jacky Rosen responded to the letter by introducing The Safe Connections Act (S. 120), which would make it easier for survivors to separate their phone line from a family plan while keeping their own phone number. It would also require the FCC to create rules to protect the privacy of the people seeking this protection. EFF is supportive of this bill.
The bill got bipartisan support and passed unanimously out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation on April 28, 2021. While there is still a long way to go, EFF is pleased to see this bill get past the first critical step. There is little reason that telecommunications carriers, who are already required to make numbers portable when users want to change carriers, cannot replicate such a seamless process when a paying customer wants to move an account within the same carrier.
Our cell phones contain a vast amount of information about our lives, including the calls and texts we make and receive. The account holder of a family plan has access to all of that data, including if someone in the plan is calling a domestic violence hotline. Giving survivors more tools to protect their privacy, leave abusive situations, and get on with their lives are worthy endeavors. The Safe Connections Act provides a framework to serve these ends.
We would prefer a bill that did not require survivors to provide paperwork to “prove” their abuse—for many survivors, providing paperwork about their abuse from a third party is burdensome and traumatic, especially when it is required at the very moment when they are trying to free themselves from their abusers. It also requires the FCC to create new regulations to protect the privacy of people seeking help to leave abusive situations though still needs stronger safeguards and remedies to ensure these protections are effective. EFF will continue to advocate for these improvements as the legislation moves forward.