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McDowell 'Very Troubled' By Social Security Number Collection

11/24/2009 4:14 PM Eastern

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says that when he voted to approve collecting more data on the race and gender of broadcast station owners he was not endorsing collecting Social Security numbers as part of that increased data drop.

That remark came in response to the commission's notice late Monday that it was delaying the Dec. 15 date for broadcasters to submit the new biennial ownership reporting forms, which now include supplying Social Security numbers for individuals with an interest in a broadcast property.

That was one of the changes the FCC made in the forms in an effort to better collect and track ownership data as part of an overarching goal, expressly supported by all the commissioners, of promoting minority and women ownership of media properties.

"Although I am pleased that we have provided broadcasters a reasonable extension of time for filing Form 323," McDowell said. "I remain very troubled that the Commission finds itself asking for Social Security numbers in connection with the filing as a way of verifying individual identities."

"Had I known when I voted in favor of collecting more data about the race and gender of broadcast owners that the process also would involve collection of Social Security numbers, I would not have endorsed using that means to what remains a worthwhile end."

Law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth filed a petition last week to stay the deadline, complaining about the privacy issue, as well as how the FCC made the changes. But the FCC's delay of the date was not related to that petition. Instead, the commission said it needed some further testing on the new online form (form 323).

That petition received the backing of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, which supports the enhanced data collection, not including SSN's. However, it was opposed by Free Press and others, which argue it is time to get on with the data collection and that the numbers will be safe in FCC's hands.

The commissioner had no comment on the petition itself, nor did a spokeswoman for the Media Bureau.

Expanding reporting requirements was part of then acting FCC Comissioner Michael Copps' effort to tee up minority ownership reforms by collecting more and better data on just who owns what.

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