Legal beagles oppose enhanced FCC form


The prospect of filling out the new FCC ownership Form 323 looks mountainous to the attorneys who will handle much of the work – and the need to provide SSN information is causing one firm to ask for a stay on implementation, a request echoed by watchdog Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.

Individuals to be listed on the form are required to have an FCC Registration Number (FRN), and in order to get that, they have to submit their social security number – a fact many are loathe to cut loose in these days of rampant identity theft.

The firm, Fletcher Heald & Hildreth, contends that at best the FCC has not shown that collecting the information is in the public interest; it further argues that the FCC did not follow accepted procedure in arriving at the new requirement; and finally, even in the event that the requirement is found to be both useful and properly arrived at, the FCC has done nothing to assure those providing it that the information will be secure.

FHH wrote, “The required disclosure of such information should be stayed until such time as the Commission takes adequate steps, consistent with its statutory obligations, to: (a) provide notice and opportunity for comment relative to any obligation to provide FRN’s for any and all individuals holding any form of attributable interest, and (b) adopt and release documentation of its privacy policies for the collection of private information that such obligation would entail.”

MMTC quickly jumped into the fray – it is entirely in favor of collecting data to determine the precise levels of ethnic and gender license ownership, and does not wish to see the project hung up on a privacy dispute.

“MMTC has strongly supported enhanced ownership information disclosures as a critical step in the advancement of minority ownership,” wrote the organization’s David Honig. “Expansion of the scope of parties required to file ownership reports will assist in enhancing the race and gender data collection because more people identifying themselves as broadcast owners will be counted. We also supported the collection of broadcast ownership data on an annual basis to better reflect the immediate impact of changes in the Commission’s rules on the investment community. These goals, however, do not necessitate the intrusion on personal privacy represented by a mandate to register Social Security numbers with the Commission.”

Honig concluded, “MMTC urges the Commission to rethink its requirement for individual FRNs that require the submission of Social Security numbers. In that way the agency can get on with the much-needed task of restoring credible Form 323 data collection that is so vital to the FCC’s civil rights mandate.”

RBR-TVBR observation: It would appear that there are some serious issues to work out, not the least of which is the sheer volume of work the FCC is asking for under a very tight deadline. We strongly suspect that the 12/15/09 deadline for returning the forms will be extended.