FCC Probes Sale of Personal Phone Records

The Federal Communications Commission has begun an investigation into the sale of personal phone records without the consent of customers amid reports that the records have been poached by a number of private data brokers.

“We are looking into how companies who are selling these records have obtained customer proprietary information,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “To the extent that they have acquired this information from telecommunications carriers, we will take strong enforcement action to address any noncompliance by carriers.”

Data brokers such Data Find Solutions Inc. and 1st Source Information Specialists Inc. have been accused of obtaining records from cellphone companies by fraudulent means and then selling the information. Last week, Cingular Wireless announced that it won a temporary restraining order to stop the firms from obtaining and selling Cingular records.

Mark Siegel, a Cingular spokesman, said he wasn’t aware of the FCC investigation. Attorneys or spokespeople for the data brokers couldn’t be located.

The privacy of personal phone records has become a hot-button issue amid reports that the records aren’t secure. Democrats on the FCC say the improper release of personal phone records is evidence of the need to take steps to better protect personal records.

“We must move swiftly to determine how and to what extent data brokers are obtaining Americans’ private phone records,” FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement. “The FCC also must determine if phone companies are doing enough to protect the personal and private information with which they are entrusted. We should then act quickly ourselves.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group formed in 1994 to address civil-liberties issues, last August asked the FCC to adopt rules to better safeguard consumer phone records.

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