RealTime IT News

T-Mobile Staff Sold Customer Data

T-Mobile this week acknowledged that millions of records from thousands of its wireless customers in England were sold by employees to third-party contractors who then called customers as their wireless plans were about to expire.

T-Mobile officials notified England's Information Commission of the out and out violation of customer privacy rights, saying that the activity was done "without our knowledge," according to a BBC report.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, representing the consumer privacy group, said it will prosecute those responsible for trading customer records and seek prison sentences for what he called the largest data breach of its kind.

England's Data Protection Act currently imposes a fine of just 5,000 pounds for those convicted of selling data without customer permission. The third-party companies then used the customer data to cold call customers to sell wireless service plans from other providers, investigators said.

"The existing paltry fines are simply not enough to deter people from engaging in this lucrative criminal activity," Graham said. "The threat of jail, not fines, will prove a stronger deterrent."

In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission hit data broker ChoicePoint with a $10 million fine -- a record penalty at the time -- for failing to adequately protect the consumer information in its databases.

T-Mobile spokespeople did not return requests for comment from InternetNews.com by press time. However, a company spokesman told the BBC that sale of its customer data was "deeply regrettable" and it would work with authorities to "stamp out what is a problem for the whole industry."

The exact number of employees involved in scandal was not disclosed.

It's been a choppy couple of months for T-Mobile.

Last month, T-Mobile Sidekick users were abruptly cut off from the wireless network during a server failure. While some of the data, including contacts and stored photos, were permanently lost, some of the company managed to salvage some of the lost files.

Another service outage kept customers from sending or receiving text messages for several hours.