Last week, in remarks at an industry conference, Republican FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed that the FCC consider requiring electronic device manufacturers to “take reasonable steps” to protect device security, including requiring them to issue software or firmware updates to patch security flaws and ensure that devices are designed to be easily patched.

His remarks came just a few weeks after the FCC effectively banned certain Chinese equipment and video surveillance devices from the U.S. market, showcasing an increasing appetite by the agency to use its authority over electronic equipment to regulate the market and safeguard national security interests.  For our previous report on that development, click here.  This new understanding of the purpose of the FCC’s equipment authorization rules is noteworthy.  The FCC previously relied on this authority solely to address technical matters associated with radiofrequency (RF) energy, such as prevention of interference and human safety.

According to Commissioner Simington, the FCC has the authority to impose such requirements under its Title III “power to protect signal security,” which provides the agency with “expansive authority to regulate RF emitting devices to make sure they don’t cause harmful interference.”  Commissioner Simington noted that millions of wireless devices are not secure largely because device manufacturers have not been incentivized to ensure their security.

According to Commissioner Simington, insecure RF devices pose not only data and privacy threats, but also the potential to cause harmful interference by significantly disrupting the operation of other, connected devices and services (e.g., rendering nearby Wi-Fi networks inoperable through a deauthentication attack with a single device or hijacking mobile phone basebands to attack wireless networks).  He went on to note that “[a]ny vulnerability in a phone operating system, in a smart thermostat firmware, in a 5G base station, is a threat to the security of our wireless networks from harmful interference.”

Given the complexity and associated challenges raised by his proposal, Commissioner Simington called on public and private stakeholders to engage with him to develop a “bipartisan, pro-innovation approach” that protects the public from insecure RF devices “while also making sure that industry is not bogged down with perpetual legal obligations to long-abandoned product lines.”

If you have any questions concerning the material discussed here, please contact the members of our Communications and Media practice.

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Photo of Yaron Dori Yaron Dori

Yaron Dori has over 20 years of experience in telecommunications, privacy, and consumer protection law, advising telecom, technology, life sciences, media and other types of companies on their most pressing business challenges. He is a former chair of the Communications and Media practice…

Yaron Dori has over 20 years of experience in telecommunications, privacy, and consumer protection law, advising telecom, technology, life sciences, media and other types of companies on their most pressing business challenges. He is a former chair of the Communications and Media practice group and currently serves as a member of the firm’s eight-person Management Committee.

Yaron’s practice focuses on strategic planning, policy development, transactions, investigations and enforcement, and regulatory compliance.

He represents clients before federal regulatory agencies—including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—and the U.S. Congress in connection with a range of policy issues under the Communications Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and similar statutes. He also represents clients on state regulatory and enforcement matters, including those that pertain to telecommunications and data privacy regulation. His unique experience in telecommunications, privacy, and consumer protection enables him to advise clients on key business issues in which these areas intersect.

With respect to telecommunications matters, Yaron advises clients on a broad range of business, policy and consumer-facing issues, including:

  • Broadband deployment and regulation;
  • IP-enabled applications, services and content;
  • Equipment and device authorization procedures;
  • The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA);
  • Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) requirements;
  • The Cable Privacy Act
  • Net Neutrality; and
  • Local competition, universal service, and intercarrier compensation.

Yaron also has extensive experience in structuring transactions and securing regulatory approvals at both the federal and state levels for mergers, asset acquisitions and similar transactions involving large and small FCC and state licensees.

With respect to privacy and consumer protection matters, Yaron advises clients on a range of business, strategic, policy and compliance issues, including those that pertain to:

  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA);
  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA);
  • Location-based services that use WiFi, beacons or similar technologies;
  • Online Behavioral Advertising;
  • Online advertising practices, including native advertising and endorsements and testimonials; and
  • The application of federal and state telemarketing, commercial fax, and other consumer protection laws, such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), to voice, text, and video transmissions.

Yaron also has experience advising companies on FCC (Enforcement Bureau), FTC and state attorney general investigations into various consumer protection and communications matters, including those pertaining to social media influencers, digital disclosures, product discontinuance, and advertising claims.

Photo of Matthew DelNero Matthew DelNero

Matt DelNero works with companies in the telecommunications, technology and media sectors—advising them in policy development, regulatory compliance, and commercial transactions, among other settings.

Photo of Jennifer Johnson Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is a partner specializing in communications, media and technology matters who serves as co-chair of Covington’s global and multi-disciplinary Internet of Things (IoT) group. She represents and advises content distributors, broadcast companies, trade associations, and other media and technology entities on…

Jennifer Johnson is a partner specializing in communications, media and technology matters who serves as co-chair of Covington’s global and multi-disciplinary Internet of Things (IoT) group. She represents and advises content distributors, broadcast companies, trade associations, and other media and technology entities on a wide range of issues. Jennifer has more than two decades of experience advising clients in the communications, media and technology sectors, and has served as a co-chair for these practices for more than 15 years. On IoT issues, she collaborates with Covington’s global, multi-disciplinary team to assist companies navigating the complex statutory and regulatory constructs surrounding this evolving area, including legal issues with respect to connected and autonomous vehicles, internet connected devices, smart ecosystems, and other IoT products and services.

Jennifer assists clients in developing and pursuing strategic business and policy objectives before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress and through transactions and other business arrangements. She regularly advises clients on FCC regulatory matters and advocates frequently before the FCC. Jennifer has extensive experience negotiating content acquisition and distribution agreements for media and technology companies, including program distribution agreements with cable, satellite, and telco companies, network affiliation and other program rights agreements for television companies, and agreements providing for the aggregation and distribution of content on over-the-top app-based platforms. She also assists investment clients in structuring, evaluating, and pursuing potential investments in media and technology companies.

Photo of Gerard J. Waldron Gerard J. Waldron

Gerry Waldron represents communications, media, and technology clients before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, and in commercial transactions. Mr. Waldron served as chair of the firm’s Communications and Media Practice Group from 1998 to 2008. Prior to joining Covington, Mr. Waldron served…

Gerry Waldron represents communications, media, and technology clients before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, and in commercial transactions. Mr. Waldron served as chair of the firm’s Communications and Media Practice Group from 1998 to 2008. Prior to joining Covington, Mr. Waldron served as the senior counsel on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications. During his work for Congress, he was deeply involved in the drafting of the 1993 Spectrum Auction legislation, the 1992 Cable Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), CALEA, and key provisions that became part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Mr. Waldron’s practice includes working closely on strategic and regulatory issues with leading IT companies, high-quality content providers in the broadcasting and sports industries, telephone and cable companies on FCC proceedings, spectrum entrepreneurs, purchasers of telecommunications services, and companies across an array of industries facing privacy, TCPA and online content, gaming, and online gambling and sports betting-related issues.

Mr. Waldron has testified on communications and Internet issues before the FCC, U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the Maryland Public Utility Commission, and the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Photo of Jocelyn Jezierny Jocelyn Jezierny

Jocelyn Jezierny is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office and a member of the firm’s Communications and Media Industry Group. Before joining Covington, Jocelyn was an Attorney-Advisor in the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau, where she worked on matters pertaining to the…

Jocelyn Jezierny is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office and a member of the firm’s Communications and Media Industry Group. Before joining Covington, Jocelyn was an Attorney-Advisor in the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau, where she worked on matters pertaining to the licensing of foreign-owned U.S. telecommunications services providers.

Jocelyn is a member of the Bar of New York. District of Columbia bar application pending; supervised by principals of the firm.

Photo of Trevor Bernardo Trevor Bernardo

Trevor Bernardo is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office. As a member of the Communications and Media Industry Group and Public Policy Group, Trevor represents and advises clients pursuing public policy strategies and conducting commercial transactions involving entities regulated by the Federal…

Trevor Bernardo is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office. As a member of the Communications and Media Industry Group and Public Policy Group, Trevor represents and advises clients pursuing public policy strategies and conducting commercial transactions involving entities regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and state public utility commissions. He also maintains an active pro bono practice. Before joining Covington, Trevor worked on various state and federal campaigns across the country.