FCC sees abusers exploiting connected cars: rules for carmakers will follow

After multiple media reports on abusers using smart car services for stalking and harming their victims, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is launching formal proceedings to examine how it can help.

The formal proceeding will examine how the agency can use existing law to ensure car manufacturers and service providers are taking steps to assist abuse victims, according to a press release. The FCC also seeks comments on additional steps to safeguard domestic violence survivors.

“No survivor of domestic violence and abuse should have to choose between giving up their car and allowing themselves to be stalked and harmed by those who can access its connectivity and data,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We can – and should – do more to make sure these new forms of communications help keep survivors safe.”

FCC shared two recent stories about how cars were used by abusers. in May 2020, San Francisco police investigated a case where an abusive husband, in violation of a restraining order, was stalking and harassing using the technology in 2016 Tesla Model X. The car allowed to access location and control of other features remotely, according to Reuters. In another case, an abusive husband tracked a woman using a Mercedes car.

The FCC proposed rules to help stop abusers from using connected cars as their tool for harassment and intimidation of their partners. Those include requirements for providers to separate the mobile service line of a survivor from any shared contract or account within 2 days, ensure the privacy of calls and text messages to domestic abuse hotlines, and others.

The FCC is building on an initiative by Rosenworcel, who, in January of this year, wrote to auto manufacturers and wireless service providers to seek their help in protecting domestic abuse survivors from the misuse of connected car tools by abusers.

She compared the newest generation of cars to smartphones on wheels, as they come with built-in connections to locate the vehicle in a parking lot, start the car remotely, or make emergency calls. In the wrong hands, those features can be used to do real harm.

“A phone is a lifeline – it is essential for survivors to rebuild their lives. Having access to a car is also a lifeline. It is a means of escape and independence, and it is often essential for those seeking employment and support,” Rosenworcel said. “That is why in this rulemaking, we propose that survivors should be able to separate lines that connect their cars, just like they can separate their phone lines from family plans.”

The commission now seeks comment on the types and frequency of use of connected car services that are available in the marketplace today. The FCC also hopes to get more insights on what the industry and Commission could do to make survivors feel safe, secure, and free from harm when they use cars.

Under the Safe Connections Act, providers are required to separate phone lines linked to family plans where the abuser is on the account.

“With this option, survivors can safely separate from family plans and keep their phone and phone number – keeping them connected to their friends, family, and supporters,” the FCC explains.

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