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Verizon Staff Fired After Peek at Obama's Calls

The Verizon Wireless employees who accessed President-elect Barack Obama's records without authorization have been fired, according to news reports.

A CNN story quoted an unnamed source at Verizon as saying the employees in question could not have read any text messages Obama sent or received, and would not have been able to access the content of any voice mail messages.

Verizon spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson confirmed the story indirectly. "I wouldn't disagree with that CNN report, but we don't have any comment," he told InternetNews.com.

The incident has troubled Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a proponent of privacy laws, who believes phone record breaches are on the rise. Leahy has written the Department of Justice (DoJ) about the issue.

Verizon Wireless's Nelson would not say how many employees had been fired, or whether or not any employees who had accessed the records with authorization had been restored to their posts as stated by Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless in a statement on Friday, when news of the breach emerged.

In the statement, McAdam had apologized to Obama and said all staff who had accessed the records, with or without authorization, had been put on paid leave, but those who had legitimate business needs for access would be returned to their positions.

The Obama camp did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Leahy's letter said that the number of data breaches involving Americans' phone records is increasing and pointed out that this breaches the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act., P.L. 109-476. This is a bill Senator Leahy cosponsored in the Senate, which passed it in 2007.

Thou shalt not peek

The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act expressly prohibits a telecommunications carrier from obtaining confidential phone records by accessing customer accounts through the Internet, or by fraudulent computer-related activities without prior authorization, Senator Leahy's letter said.

"Given the growing threat to privacy posed by phone records breaches, please provide information on the number of prosecutions and/or investigations that the Department has undertaken to date pursuant to the Telephone Records and Privacy Act," Senator Leahy's letter said in the letter, addressed to Acting Assistant Attorney-General Matthew W. Friedrich.

The senator also asked the DoJ to state whether it has found the Act effective in protecting Americans' privacy.

Senator Leahy is behind the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, which makes it easier for federal agencies to pursue cybercriminals, and increases the penalties for convictions of many cybercrimes. He tacked that act's provisions onto the Former Vice President Protection Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in September.

The Former Vice President Protection Act has since been signed into law by President Bush.