US looks at regulating connected vehicles to prevent abusers from tracking victims

DETROIT– The agency that regulates U.S. telecommunications is considering a rule that could stop domestic violence victims from tracking victims through wirelessly connected vehicles.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel is asking other commissioners to start the process of drafting new regulations.

“Domestic violence survivors should not have to choose between giving up their cars and feeling safe,” Rosenworcel said in a prepared statement.

Almost all new vehicles have useful features that use telecommunications to locate cars in parking lots, remotely start the engine and even connect to emergency services. But these features also allow abusers to track the whereabouts of their victims.

Last year, Congress directed the FCC to implement the Safe Connections Act, which gives the agency the authority to help abused partners. Early rules adopted by the agency required wireless service providers to separate phone lines associated with family plans if an abuser was on the account.

The committee will investigate whether the law gives it the authority to do the same with car manufacturers.

“We are trying to understand the full scope of what processes are in place and what more needs to be done to ensure there are no gaps in providing abuse survivors with the opportunity to separate from their abusers,” she said. Jonathan Uriate, spokesperson for Rozenworcel.

If the commission approves a proposed rule, it will receive comments from the public and industry about connected car services.

The initiative comes after Rosenworcel sent a letter to nine major US automakers in January asking for details on connected car systems and plans to support people who have been harassed and stalked by domestic violence.

The agency said the responses were a mixed bag, with some automakers allowing their partners to disconnect their vehicles from automakers or mobile phone apps, while others did not do much.

Toyota and Ford, for example, said they will revoke access to vehicle location information at the request of an abused partner. Ford said in its response that anyone concerned about tracking can use in-vehicle touchscreens to disable location data and even disable connectivity completely.

But other automakers were not specific about such options, the agency said.

Messages were left Thursday seeking comment from the automakers.

Rosenworcel began asking questions about automakers’ policies after a story in The New York Times about how connected cars are being weaponized in abusive relationships.