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Schatz Legislation To Help Domestic Violence Survivors Cut Ties With Abusers, Separate From Shared Wireless Service Plans Set To Become Law

Safe Connections Act Passes Senate, Heads To President’s Desk

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Safe Connections Act. The bill, authored by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), will help survivors of domestic violence and other crimes cut ties with their abusers and separate from shared wireless service plans, which can be exploited to monitor, stalk, or control victims.

“Giving domestic violence abusers control over their victims’ cell phones is a terrifying reality for many survivors. Right now there is no easy way out for these victims – they’re trapped in by contracts and hefty fees. Our bill, which is now set to become law, will help survivors get out of these shared plans and help victims stay connected with their families and support networks,” said Senator Schatz.

“This important legislation will help survivors of domestic violence regain their independence and free their communications from abusers’ control. I’m glad to see the Senate and House now have both passed our bipartisan bill with unanimous support, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law,” said Senator Fischer.

Survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, and human trafficking often face challenges when establishing independence from an abuser. These include financial insecurity and limited access to the communications tools essential to maintaining connections with family, social safety networks, employers, and support services. As survivors seek help and stabilize their lives, the Safe Connections Act will help them stay safe and connected by:

  • Allowing survivors to separate a mobile phone line from any shared plan involving an abuser without penalties or other requirements. This includes lines of any dependents in their care;
  • Requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to seek comment on how to help survivors who separate from a shared plan enroll in the Lifeline Program for up to six-months as they become financially stable; and
  • Requiring the FCC to establish rules that would ensure any calls or texts to hotlines do not appear on call logs.

The Schatz-Fischer legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“The National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) profoundly supports the passage of the Safe Connections Act. Survivors reaching out to The Hotline often share the devastating effects of abusive partners using phones and other devices to monitor, control, harass and stalk them. The ability to leave a shared phone contract while maintaining confidentiality will be an incredible and possibly lifesaving tool in a survivor’s journey to safety,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“Our work reveals how phones play an essential but complicated role in survivors’ lives. Survivors rely on communications technologies as a lifeline, but those same technologies can expose them to abuse. The Safe Connections Act carefully responds to this tension through important new protections for survivors,” said Professor Thomas Kadri of the Clinic to End Tech Abuse at Cornell University.

The Safe Connections Act is supported by Access Now, the Clinic to End Tech Abuse at Cornell University, the Hawai‘i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the International Justice Mission, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Public Knowledge, RAINN, StrongHearts Helpline, Legal Momentum - the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Domestic Violence Action Center, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Polaris, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The bill now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.