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.

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