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Rep. Takes Aim at Cell Phone Record Sales

The past few weeks have witnessed a flood of news stories about the proliferation of Web sites offering to obtain cell phone call records on just about anyone for a small fee. This type of service -- which usually is driven by clever con artists who call up the wireless providers and impersonate the cell phone owner or the owner's spouse -- has been around for years, so it's a little surprising to see the media jump on this now.

In fact, if you want to see just how easy this process (known as "pretexting" or "social engineering") really is, check out the story we broke last year about how teenagers conned their way past T-Mobile sales assistants to break into Paris Hilton's cell phone.

Still, the media coverage appears to have garnered the attention of lawmakers in Congress, who have got to be downright terrified that someone might be able to pay $100 for their cell phone records. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said Wednesday that he plans to introduce legislation to put the kibosh on this industry once and for all.

Barton said that while pretexting to obtain someone's financial records is already illegal, using the same trick to get someone else's cell phone records isn't. Barton says his legislation will change that, and may even put pressure on the wireless providers to take further steps to protect their customers' privacy.

"I mean to make it very illegal," Barton said in a statement. "It is also possible because telephone companies may not be doing enough to protect consumer privacy, and I will make it clear that companies owe their customers a duty to privacy and need to devise new ways to foil pretexters."

This seems like a sensible and long-overdue step, though it's unlikely to do away with what is certainly a lucrative market. Chances are that if Barton's bill is passed, it will only push this open-air market further underground, or force the con artists to adapt their con -- as they always do.

By Brian Krebs  |  January 19, 2006; 3:35 PM ET
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Posted by: Anonymous | January 19, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | January 19, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

"I mean to make it very illegal," Barton said in a statement."

What a total hoot. By all means keep cell phone records at the NSA where they belong!!!

I think it's time for a national conversation on the silliness of the "if you did nothing wrong, you've nothing to fear" arguement.

Posted by: GTexas | January 19, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: GTexas | January 19, 2006 4:48 PM | Report abuse

All phone records should be stored in their proper place, the NSA...

Posted by: ZIV | January 19, 2006 5:07 PM | Report abuse

CNBC has been fanning this issue over the past couple of weeks to instigate public outrage. The problem that I see with this issue is that it is too narrowly focused. To explain, CNBC seemed to take the position that it should be illegal for a PRIVATE person to buy/sell cell phone data. However, it appeared that it would be ok for the cell phone companies to buy/sell phone data for marketing purposes. Clearly a double standard.

Any legislation adressing this issue should be broadened to stop the buying/selling of personal data by everyone. Corporations should be prevented from buying/selling/sharing personal information with all their affiliates, partners, associates, and cronies. We get enough spam as it is.

Posted by: Steve R. | January 19, 2006 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Any easy out is to make the requester of said records to call from the that particular cell phone. You'd be safe unless Bad Guy steals your phone, too.

Posted by: RIck | January 22, 2006 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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