Lawmakers Promise Action Against Phone Record Sales
WASHINGTON -- Members of a U.S. House of Representatives committee today promised fast action to outlaw the sale of telephone and mobile phone call logs.
Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were united in their call to take some kind of action against businesses that sell phone logs without the permission of the telephone customer. More than 40 Web-based business sell telephone call logs, Jonathan Leibowitz, a commissioner with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, said at a committee hearing.
Lawmakers, spurred on by recent media reports on phone log sales, raised concerns about stalkers buying phone records of their victims or criminals buying call logs of an undercover police officer.
"Our e-mail is clogged with spam," said Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and committee chairman. "Our computers are covertly monitored with spyware. Our personal information is bought and sold by information brokers. And now we learn that a phone number and one hundred dollars can buy you a month's worth of call information for just about anyone.
"These are very personal and private records of who we call, when we call and how long we spend on the telephone call," Barton added. "This is an invasion into our personal privacy and, if I have anything to do with it, will not be allowed to continue for very much longer."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called the unauthorized sale of telephone records "privacy theft," and Steve Largent, president and chief executive of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), said such sales give the telecom industry a "black eye."
While some lawmakers pushed for new laws that would make it illegal to sell phone records, an official with the telecommunications trade group United States Telecom Association (USTA) said a new law wasn't necessary. In most cases, criminals use deceptive practices--a practice called pretexting--to gain access to telecom carrier records, said Ed Merlis, USTA's senior vice president for law and policy.
"We believe the best way to address the problem is through the enforcement of existing laws and the strengthening of ... penalties for bad actors," Merlis said.
But several lawmakers complained that telecom carriers profit from the sale of their customers' personal information to other businesses. Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said telephone carrier notices telling customers they have to opt out of having their information shared with carrier affiliates often look like junk mail.
Tightening the rules governing how telecom companies share personal information may not solve the problem, however, said Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The practice of pretexting involves tricking the telecom carrier into giving up personal information, in most cases, with the scammer pretending to be the customer, he noted. But Martin said he would support a new law that would outlaw the sale of all telephone records.
But the CTIA's Largent warned lawmakers to limit their proposals. Any law that would prevent mobile phone carriers from discussing customer accounts over the phone would hurt customer service, he said. Some carriers have stopped providing customer information by fax, he said.
"It would prove to be counterproductive to enact legislation that would impede wireless customers' access to their own account information," he said. "Rules that may require in-person customer service would be a step backwards."