Privacy Groups Say Government Broadband Speed Tests Open Door to Legal Snooping

By Tracey E. Schelmetic October 12, 2012

If you’re concerned about the speed of broadband you’re getting from your carrier – making sure you get what you pay for, since sometimes speeds don’t meet promises from carriers – you may visit one of many test sites that confirm your speed.

Some of these test sites are government sponsored, such as that found on

One group is warning consumers they may be getting more than a speed test; they may be providing the government a good snoop around their browsing history. In fact, you may be turning over information that could allow law enforcement agencies to review their Internet activity without due process or judicial scrutiny.

Information collected by the tests includes users’ IP addresses, street addresses, mobile handset latitude/longitude data and unique handset identification numbers.

A coalition of public interest groups sent a letter today to FCC head Julius Genachowski to express strong concerns about the practice, which the FCC claims is legal and appropriate, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“The potential for government to abuse citizens’ personal information poses a unique threat to individual freedom,” said Ryan Radia, associate director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Therefore, federal agencies bear a unique burden of justifying, disclosing and minimizing their collection and use of personal data.”

The Coalition said its goal is to urge the FCC to carefully evaluate the privacy implications of its broadband testing program and implement measures to enhance privacy, including:

  • Disclosing personal information to other government agencies for purposes unrelated to broadband testing only when doing so is required by law
  • Minimizing its collection and retention of potentially sensitive personal information (including street addresses and handset identification numbers)
  • Where the collection of such information is justified, properly de-identifying the data to preserve its value and protect the identities of individuals and their locations
  • Regularly disclosing how personal information, including street addresses, is retained, used and shared with other governmental agencies
  • Imposing the same limits on the public disclosure of IP addresses by the FCC’s contractors, M-Lab and Ookla, and its other software partners.

A copy of the letter sent to the FCC can be found here.

Edited by Braden Becker

TechZone360 Contributor

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