A lobbying group representing the U.S. wireless industry has reportedly been working to weaken proposed legislation that, if passed, would allow victims of domestic violence to remove themselves from family phone plans they share with their abuser. The law, which is called the Safe Connections Act, proposes letting mobile phone customers end their relationship with their provider while keeping their phone number (even if they owe money on their bill). Phone companies would be required to comply with the request within 48 hours, and, as the bill is currently written, would be liable if they didn’t follow through. Advocates believe the Safe Connections act could help survivors more safely leave their abusers, as well as limit the ability of abusers to surveil and stalk their victims after leaving the relationship.
CTIA—a lobby group that represents phone companies including Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T Wireless—has reportedly been attempting to alter the language of the proposed legislation in order to protect their companies from lawsuits and FCC enforcement if they fail to comply. If their efforts are successful, the law would effectively become voluntary, which would severely limit the ability of regulators to hold companies accountable for refusing to follow through.
Having the ability to separate their phone line from family plans could help survivors by preventing their abusers from monitoring their texts and phone calls, a tactic that abusers often use to control and manipulate their victims. “It’s a pathway to safety because now the survivor is able to separate their phone line and make plans maybe to separate from the abuser,” explained Elaina Roberts, the technology safety legal manager at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “They can reach out to family and friends, or a direct service provider without being monitored or without that being known, so they can plan for their safety.”
A 2018 study that examined how abusers use technology to harm people found that many survivors were unaware that their abuser could see their call history, text, and voicemails if they were on a family plan together. As one participant in the study explained, “[The abuser] was the one who got a phone from [phone company], it was his account… He can see everybody I talk to. He probably had access to my voicemail. I just learned that somebody can access your voicemail. I don’t know what he was doing.”
Although the Safe Connections Act has yet to reach the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate, advocates are hopeful after the bill was unanimously passed in the Senate commerce committee last week.