January 26, 2006 5:55 PM PST

Politicians call for better phone record privacy

In response to disclosures about phone records being sold on the Internet, politicians want federal regulators to verify that the biggest service providers are adequately protecting their customers' information.

According to a letter (click here for PDF) sent by the chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, all telecommunications providers must "certify annually" with the Federal Communications Commission that they are in compliance with the federal rules.

The politicians asked the FCC to turn over the latest certifications from the five largest wireless and wireline providers, along with statements from the companies describing "how their internal procedures protect the confidentiality of consumer information." Citing their ongoing investigation about the matter, the legislators imposed a Jan. 30 deadline. The House returns from its winter recess Jan. 31.

The issue of the illicit brokering of phone records has drawn attention recently, with carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless and also the state of Illinois filing suits against third-party brokers accused of the practice. On Monday, T-Mobile landed a temporary restraining order, which prohibits at least two companies from directly or indirectly obtaining its customers' information.

It's not entirely clear how Web sites such as Locatecell.com and Celltolls.com obtain logs of calls made by a telephone customer, but some kind of law is probably being broken in the process. Possibilities include a telephone company insider who is bribed for the information, a security breach that's exploited electronically or physically, or "pretexting"--the practice of posing as a customer asking for an e-mailed or faxed copy of a bill.

Locatecell.com was offline Thursday, its site replaced with a message from GoDaddy.com asking the site's owner to call the domain registrar. Meanwhile, Celltolls.com had a note on its site saying that it was not currently accepting queries regarding Cingular Wireless phone numbers.

Members of the U.S. Senate have already taken steps to legislate on the issue. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and four colleagues introduced a measure last week that would impose fines and up to five years in prison--or double that in extraordinary cases--for those who knowingly obtained phone records in violation of federal law.

Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, plans to introduce legislation of his own at some point and will likely convene a hearing on the topic in early February, spokesman Terry Lane said Thursday.

FCC representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter. But last week, Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein issued statements that voiced alarm at the reports of illegal records sales. The FCC has launched its own investigation into the matter, they said.

The commissioners also said they'd move more quickly on making new rules for data protection, citing an August petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center as a catalyst for their work.

Among EPIC's suggestions are limiting retention of records that are no longer needed for billing purposes, encrypting data stored by phone service providers, allowing customers to set passwords on their accounts, issuing notifications if any security breach occurs, and supplying "audit trails" that record whenever a customer's record is accessed.

5 comments

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Yeah, whatever
Congress doing anything in the communications realm is
nothing but a huge joke. Look at CANSPAM. More holes than
Windows 98. They spend more time bickering than
accomplishing a single thing, unless the whole world's spotlight
is on it. I will believe that they accomplished something when I
see it. Unless something affects a congressperson, their efforts
are less than stellar. If it does matter, they choke when it comes
to making the legislation have any teeth.

Yes, I concede that there are some good congresspeople, but as
a whole, the Three Stooges get more accomplished.
Posted by jasonemanuelson1 (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Isn't that sweet?
It's really entertaining to watch the government get all concerned about "protecting" our cell phone records. The question is, why would anyone worry about this, when the government itself has easy access to these and other records at will?
Posted by hscoggin (6 comments )
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Sweet enough to make you sick...
Not only does to government have access to this, but they go one step beyond this and tap phones without warrant now, too! Pretty loud and clear to me that they don't really care about privacy.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Hackers.
Hello I'm Joey, I say the govener needs to find a way to put a stop to these hackers stealing our ID Information & Credit cards #'s... It gets real annoying when you go to check your e-mail & it say's wrong password because you've been hacked! I mean I got hacked once myself but. I stoped it. I reported them & I never accepted anything els from anybody. Only people I know. Hacker's are real annoying. There is a "Hacker Squad" called g00ns. Maybe some of you have heard of them. Well, They hacked me once taking over my PC(computer). I don't know if they think it's funny or somthing but it makes me mad to see people falling for e-mail's & stuff that "fruads" send.
Posted by Joey280922 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ummm... not quite.
What you are talking about isn't regular hackers. You are talking about black-hat hackers, aka crackers. Plus most people individuals that think they have been hacked either mistook a regular error for a hack or have been hacked by someone that they upset.

Also, most people who find "wrong password" errors coming up have not been hacked at all but have made an error themselves. Trust me, I deal with it all the time. Either they don't pay attention to case sensitive passwords, put in an old password, mistype a password, have a program save an old password, etc...
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
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