TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Agencies Probing Sales of Cellphone Data

Agencies Probing Sales of Cellphone Data

Jeremy Pelofsky & Sinead Carew (
Sat, 14 Jan 2006 15:38:12 -0600

By Jeremy Pelofsky and Sinead Carew

A U.S. Congressman said on Friday that federal agencies were looking
into whether telephone companies were sufficiently protecting
consumers' records amid concerns that Internet sites were selling
cellphone call information.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the chairman
of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) told him the agency was
investigating whether phone companies were adequately protecting
consumer records. He said in a statement "the FCC and the Federal
Trade Commission were coordinating efforts to combat this rising

In November, Markey asked the FTC and the FCC to investigate what he
said was a violation of private consumer information and to take steps
to protect consumers.

The biggest U.S. mobile service, Cingular Wireless, owned by AT&T
Inc. and BellSouth Corp., said late on Friday that it received a
temporary restraining order against Data Find Solutions and 1st Source
Information Specialists Inc.

It said it had sued the companies alleging they "unlawfully obtained
and disseminated Cingular customer records."

Earlier on Friday, CTIA, an industry group representing U.S. mobile
telephone services, called for federal and state authorities to
investigate Web sites that it says fraudulently obtain and sell
consumers' cellphone call information.

CTIA spokesman Joe Farren said call record sales plans were brought to
the group's attention by member companies, including Verizon Wireless,
which last year sued companies it said were trying to wrongfully
obtain private customer information.

"We very much believe that laws are being broken and people are
profiting from it," Farren said. "Without prosecution there will
continue to be this fraud and subscribers and wireless companies will
continue to be the victims."

Company spokesman Tom Pica said Verizon Wireless believes state
attorneys general "are the right people to get involved and there is a
need for criminal laws to protect customers."

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, plans to propose
legislation next week to make it a crime for someone to obtain call
information under false pretenses or for a wireless company employee
to sell customer information, his spokeswoman Risa Heller said on

Heller said current customer network information laws apply to phone
companies but not to the general public.

An FTC spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a consumer watchdog, has
petitioned the FCC to improve rules protecting consumers' call
records. The FCC has sought public comment on that request.

Web sites offering call records for a price include, and

These sites claim that if given certain information, such as cellphone
numbers, they can provide data such as call records and the name and
billing address associated with a cellphone number in exchange for

Farren said he believes such information is obtained fraudulently.
"There's only a couple of ways this can happen. One is impersonation
and the other is having somebody inside (cell-phone) companies," he

It was not possible to leave a message at the number provided on and the site operators did not immediately reply
to an e-mail. was not immediately contactable. The Web site
said its searches were intended for research purposes only and if
users needed the data for legal purposes they would have to subpoena
the records from the telephone operator. was not immediately contactable. The site
said consumers could use its database links to obtain information such
as itemized phone bills.

California and New York state prosecutors have been among the most
active in protecting consumer rights.

"On its face it seems like an outrageous invasion of people's
privacy," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for California Attorney
General Bill Lockyer's office. Dresslar declined further comment.

Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone
Group Plc, said last year it received a court order to stop a
Tennessee company from illegally obtaining and selling private
customer records.

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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