RealTime IT News

House Subpoenas Phone Data Sites

Web sites selling confidential consumer telephone data are refusing to comply with a U.S. House of Representatives' request for information, prompting the Energy and Commerce Committee to issue subpoenas to a dozen companies.

The move is the latest in an ongoing investigation into the Internet sale of phone records and other personal information. In March, the committee approved legislation outlawing the sale of the records.

Along with a second bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation awaits final approval by the full House.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed similar legislation last month that is pending before the full Senate.

In the meantime, a number of sites continue to sell confidential phone information for as little as $100.

Two months ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to a number of the sites asking them to voluntarily provide information about where they obtain their information and other details of their business.

"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," the House letters state. "With the exception of the legal activities of law enforcement authorities, we struggle to find any ethical justification for marketing this data."

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, telephone carriers are obligated to protect the Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) of consumers, but last summer the privacy watchdog Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) complained to the FCC that confidential phone records are readily available for sale on the Internet.

Carriers are currently allowed to sell customer data to their affiliates, agents and joint venture partners. As originally passed in the Telecom Act, phone companies were obligated to get an opt-in permission for the telcos to sell their information, but a court decision overturned that ruling.

The phone companies claim they are being tricked out of the information being sold on the Internet by a technique known as "pretexting," or assuming the identity of the real customer.

Under the pending legislation in both the House and the Senate, it would be an express violation for a person to use false pretenses to obtain or sell telephone data, The bills also strengthen the ability of the Federal Trade Commission to pursue pretexters.