2007 Archive

Student Brief Moves the FCC: A David and Goliath Story

Olive Huang '07, a third-year law and public policy student, took a stand against the wireless industry to help protect the rights of consumers and fight against unauthorized access to individuals' phone records.

Huang authored a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the tutelage of Chris Hoofnagle at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in the summer of 2005. Hoofnagle is senior staff attorney with Boalt's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic and a senior fellow with the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

Huang's petition was instrumental in what Hoofnagle characterizes as "probably the biggest victory in privacy in the last year." In response to the petition, the FCC launched a proceeding that resulted in sweeping rules to protect the security of telephone calling records. Huang's work was cited more than 50 times in the commission's order.

The new safeguards protect against unauthorized access to phone records by requiring passwords for customer account access, notifications of any changes to account information, and consent procedures before customer information is disclosed. The FCC also announced a new rulemaking to consider such issues as audit trails, data retention, and safeguards for information stored in cell phones.

"It's quite remarkable for a law student to petition the FCC, have the FCC accept the petition, and have the agency rule broadly in your favor despite the entire lobbying weight of the wireless industry against you," Hoofnagle says of Huang's success. "In fact, you'd pay a law firm tens of thousands of dollars for just the first."