House Panel Demands Information From Phone Data Brokers

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. House of Representatives committee today demanded that operators of Web sites that sell telephone records such as call logs detail how they obtain that information without the telephone customers' permission.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to owners of Web sites, including Phonebust.com and Datafind.org, telling them to turn over information, including their annual revenues, their top customers, and all methods they use to obtain customer telephone records.

The committee gave the Web site operators a deadline of February 17 to respond.

Committee's Concerns

Such Web sites "offer criminals, stalkers and any other paying customer the detailed records of a person's private calls," the committee said in a press release. The committee letter questioned how Web sites can legally sell telephone records. Critics of companies selling telephone logs say many businesses selling phone records get them by tricking telephone carriers and posing as the customer whose records they want.

"It is very disconcerting that certain online data broker companies are exploiting consumers' personal records and selling the information to whomever pays for the records," said the letter, signed by committee chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, and three other committee members. "With the exception of the legitimate activities of law enforcement authorities, who in any event have legal means for acquiring such information, we struggle to find any ethical justification for marketing this data."

Earlier this week at a hearing on telephone record data brokers, Barton promised an investigation into Web sites that sell phone logs and other personal information.

"I can only guess at the excuses that will be offered by people who profit by engaging in an obvious fraud, by invading personal privacy, and by assisting criminal behavior," Barton said then. Several legislators have announced bills or plans for bills to deal with this problem.

No Comment on Charges

A woman who answered the telephone at PDJ Services of Granbury, Texas, which manages Phonebust.com, said company officials would not comment on the committee's actions. When told the committee was seeking information on the sale of telephone records, she said, "We really don't offer that service."

Yet, Phonebust.com's front page offers to sell a name and address associated with a mobile phone number for $49. Phonebust.com also offers names and addresses associated with unlisted phone numbers and names and addresses from disconnected phone numbers.

The woman, who didn't give her name, said the committee had not yet contacted PDJ Services. Asked if someone else at PDJ could comment, the woman said no. "You can call all day, and you're not going to get any information," she said. "If there's anyone who can give you that information, you're never going to get to talk to them."

Steven Schwartz, director of First Source Information Specialists, of Tamarac, Florida, was not immediately available for comment. First Source Information Specialists manages the Datafind.org, Locatecell.com, Celltolls.com and Peoplesearchamerica.com, according to the committee.

Privacy group the Electronic Privacy Information Center first raised concerns about the sale of telephone records in mid-2005. This month, committee member Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, announced that he's asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Web sites that sell telephone records.

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