President Joe Biden signed the Safe Connections Act into law on Wednesday, which is expected to help survivors of domestic violence and other crimes cut ties with their abusers.
The new law, authored by US Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), will enable survivors to separate from shared wireless service plans, which backers say 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 new law will help survivors get out of these shared plans and help victims stay connected with their families and support networks,” said Senator Schatz in a news release.
“This new law will help survivors of domestic violence regain their independence and free their communications from abusers’ control. It’s another important step toward ensuring all victims of domestic violence have the support they need and deserve,” said Senator Fischer.
Bill backers say 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 aims to 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 was cosponsored by US 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.).