(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Congressman Alan Grayson (FL-09) has asked the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to protect privacy and security of cellular communications from foreign intelligence services and criminals. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Grayson expressed concern about “IMSI catchers”, relatively cheap technology that can intercept phone calls and text messages by impersonating cell phone towers. A June 2014 report by Newsweek’s Jeff Stein (“New Eavesdropping Equipment Sucks All Data Off Your Phone”) explained that the devices can be bought openly and are currently being used.

The Hill’s Julian Hattem covered Grayson’s efforts:

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) wants the head of the Federal Communications Commission to do something to protect people’s phone calls.

In a letter on Wednesday, Grayson said he was "disturbed" about devices that can cost as little as $1,800 and secretly pick up calls and text messages.

“Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications, and in information about where they go and with whom they communicate,” he wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “It is extremely troubling to learn that cellular communications are so poorly secured, and that it is so easy to intercept calls and track people’s phones.” 

The relatively simple technology known as ISMI catchers operate like a cellphone tower to pick up unique signals from people’s phones to listen in on their conversations and text message chats and nab any emails or contact data on the phones. Aside from criminals and snooping neighbors, spies or terrorists could also use the devices, critics have worried.

Even worse, Grayson said, the FCC may have long been aware of how the devices pick up personal cellphone data.

According to an Associated Press report earlier this year, the commission authorizes companies to produce and sell wireless equipment that could interfere with fireless frequencies, like the ISMI catchers that track cellphones.

That’s despite the fact that previous heads of the FCC have spoken publicly about the need to protect the privacy of people’s phones.

Grayson asked Wheeler to explain what powers the FCC had to force companies to upgrade to secure networks, how it has told the public about the possible risks and what Congress can do to protect people’s calls and text messages.


Congressman Alan Grayson represents Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Osceola County, as well as parts of Orange and Polk counties. He previously served as the U.S. Representative for Florida's 8th Congressional District in the 111th Congress.