FCC to investigate phone record sales

Online data brokers are selling U.S. citizens’ private phone records with apparent impunity, angering privacy groups and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), among others. After reading recent news reports about the sale of phone records, Reid sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for an investigation.

In a letter dated Jan. 13, Reid asked the FCC how online data brokers are obtaining private phone records and whether phone companies are doing enough to protect customers’ personal and private information. Reid’s letter referred to the problem as “a remarkable assault on the privacy rights of Americans.”

One such data broker, Intelisearch.net, sells wireless and landline phone records and guarantees a turnaround time of four hours or less. The company warns consumers: “This is not for use in court. If you need records for court, you will need to subpoena them from the carrier.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group, said it has known about the problem for months. In August 2005, the center petitioned the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein announced Jan. 17 that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau had launched an investigation into the data brokering practices, which he described as troublesome. He said additional rulemaking to protect consumers might be appropriate.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits phone companies from using or disclosing certain proprietary customer information without customers’ approval, Adelstein said. The law makes the FCC responsible for enforcing the privacy provisions.

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