Update on the Safe Connections Act
June 15, 2022 | View PDF
Your cell phone number is tied to countless aspects of your daily life. If you are like me, you have had the same number for a decade or more. Your family and friends all know how to reach you at that number. If you change it, you could lose contact with dozens of loved ones and many other people who need to contact you for crucial needs – like your bank, healthcare provider, employer, or your children’s school. Would you panic if you had to change your number all of a sudden?
This is a dilemma many survivors of domestic violence must face. Through a shared mobile wireless phone plan, private information can be accessed and misused to control victims. If an abusive partner is the plan’s account holder, they could access sensitive information like location, messages, or calls to a domestic violence support hotline. Depending on differing company policies that may not consider these circumstances, many survivors cannot separate their phone numbers on their own without authorization from the abusive partner.
To cut these digital ties, many times survivors’ only option is to change their number. This a burden, and the last thing they should have to worry about as they escape abusive situations and regain independence. Survivors should be able to choose whether retaining their number or getting a new number on a new plan is the safest option for them.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and I introduced the Safe Connections Act last year to solve this problem, no matter where survivors live or who their wireless carriers are and I am happy to say our bipartisan bill recently passed the Senate unanimously.
The Safe Connections Act will allow a survivor of domestic violence to separate their mobile phone line from a wireless phone plan shared with an abuser, without penalty. They also will be able to do the same for any dependents in their care.
Additionally, the bill will require the Federal Communications Commission to enroll survivors temporarily in programs that help make cell phone plans more affordable. They will be eligible for this benefit for a transition period of up to six months while they work to become financially stable.
Lastly, and importantly, the Safe Connections Act will protect survivors from their abusers even before they separate their cell phone plans. It asks the FCC to undertake a rulemaking proceeding to evaluate how calls and texts to domestic abuse hotlines can be removed from phone call logs – which abusers often track. This will be crucial for helping survivors reach out to support services without their abusers finding out.
I am thankful for the support of local organizations, such as the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, for the Safe Connections Act. As the Coalition previously noted “Domestic Violence survivors so often have significant financial challenges when separating from the person harming them… the Safe Connections Act is an important step toward providing safety for survivors and in giving them autonomy and control back over their own lives.”
The Safe Connections Act is a common-sense solution that will help domestic abuse survivors nationwide. It’s time for Congress to act.