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Phone Records For Sale
Posted by: Jon Henke on Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I've seen this story covered by various Lefties, but no Righties as of yet. It should get more coverage. John Aravosis of AmericaBlog reported that...
Anyone can buy a list of your incoming and outgoing phone calls, cell or land-line, for $110 online
[...]
In a nutshell, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story two days ago about a Web site that sells phone records, for cells and land-lines, for $110 a pop. The company boasts on its own Web site:
Give us the cell phone number and we will send you the calls made from the cell phone number.
So I went to their site, plopped down $110, and within a day I had a list of every single phone number that called my cell, or that I called from my cell, for the month of November. I even had the dates the calls were made, and for a premium I could find out how long the calls were.
To verify, he not only purchased his own cell-phone records, he also purchased those of General Wesley Clark.

Perhaps there is a libertarian argument that these records are the property of the phone company and that any action to put a stop to this should be between consumers and phone company. On the other hand, we have an expectation of privacy with regards to our phone communications and I see no reason why that should not also apply to the record of our calls. Not to mention the implications for national security, law enforcement, etc. Imagine being able to access the calls made by a journalist, police investigator, FBI agent or politician. Now, imagine who might be interested in doing that.

Absent expressed authorization, I'm inclined to the view that calls made on a private line ought to be considered private. This is akin to finding out after the fact that your cable company had installed a camera alongside the cable box, arguing that, hey, you didn't say we couldn't videotape whoever is watching our product. Feel free to agree or disagree in the commments and make arguments accordingly.

In the meantime, an acquaintance emails me this link to a Moveon.org petition to put a stop to this:
"Congress and phone companies have dealt a stunning blow to the privacy rights of everyday Americans by allowing cell and home phone records to be sold online to anyone. Congress must immediately pass a law that strictly prohibits these unauthorized sales and begin enforcing this law now."
I'll disagree with Moveon.org on a lot, but when they step up to protect liberty and unwarranted intrusion, I can suppport that. Feel free to sign the petition here.

UPDATE: In comments, Dale points out that the Supreme Court has ruled that there's no "expectation of privacy in your phone records" and that the better response is to "boycott them, sue them, and heap public contumely on them."

I wasn't aware that there was no expectation of privacy involved, so he's right that a private sector recourse would be better were that possible. However, I should add that it might not be entirely possible, due to holes in existing law. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "telephone company insiders secretly sell customers’ phone-call lists to online brokers, despite strict telephone company rules against such deals" and "some online brokers have used deception [pretexting] to get the lists from the phone companies".

So, there's fraud involved. Why isn't pre-texting already against the law? Apparently, it is....but for financial and not phone data. Further, according to Information Week, the "Telecommunications Act forbids telecom companies from using or disclosing consumer proprietary network information without customer approval". Neither pretexting nor the secret insider sales involve customer approval. So, ultimately, some cons are skirting a hole in the law to violate the Telecommunications Act and company policies.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
On the other hand, we have an expectation of privacy with regards to our phone communications...
Anyone that maintains that is extremely naive. I don’t even have an expectation of privacy on what is on my computer drive. While that is sad, lamentable, and outrageous it would be foolish to expect that someone is not reading your hard drive and invading your privacy. Look at what happened with Senator Schumer’s aids/assistants and Maryland Lt Gov Steele. I don’t see MoveOn.org commenting on that.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Exactly Tom,
This is more "libertarian" posing by a progressive advocacy group. They want us to believe they are us.

It’s cool to be a Libertarian, now. But, no matter what Move-On wants us to think, Soros ain’t one.
-Steve


 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
This is akin to finding out after the fact that your cable company had installed a camera alongside the cable box, arguing that, hey, you didn’t say we couldn’t videotape whoever is watching our product. Feel free to agree or disagree in the commments and make arguments accordingly.
Good lord, that is verbatim the argument I made about this (which I read on a rightie blog, mind you).
 
Written By: Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble)
URL: http://sharpmarbles.stufftoread.com
I’m a Conservative Republican, but on this issue I guess I’m more Catholic than the Pope. This is not an invasion of privacy, or if it is, it is correctble via class action law suit, i.e., civil action. There is no need for governmental action. Leave Congress and the Federal Government out of it please.

I do understand the other side’s argument and I feel the outrage. I just think let the courts and individuals handle this, not Congress and the President/DoJ.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Lets note that this applies to CELL PHONES, not landline phones.

I agree it sucks and should be stopped if possible, but lets apply the common sense here- if you’re talking on a cell or surfing the net, unless your tech is Jack-Bauer level, you’re open to that sort of thing.



 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Book, it is hard to police information. If we try we will only create a new police state.

The result of Jon’s revelations will be, I think, that those of us who dislike these privacy-breaches will choose new avenues for communication that are free of them. The result will be new products, technologies and markets.

Free Markets, Free People
-Steve
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) is that these records are illegally obtained. The phone companies are not selling the phone records.

My understanding is that the records are stolen and then sold by a third party.

Though the phone companies apparently aren’t working hard enough to stop the thefts, either.

 
Written By: W
URL: http://
I hate to be the dissenter here, but you do not, and never have, had an expectation of privacy in your phone records. You make phone calls through a third party, whom you know is recording who you are calling. This has been settled in American law for decades.

If you don’t like your telecom provider’s privacy policy, then find another one. Or, force your telecom provider to change the policy through legal action.

This is a purely civil matter, not a Constitutional one.
This is akin to finding out after the fact that your cable company had installed a camera alongside the cable box, arguing that, hey, you didn’t say we couldn’t videotape whoever is watching our product.
Uh, no, it’s not. At best, it’s analogous to the cable company keeping a record of the channels you watch. The telecom provider is not, after all, keeping a transcript of the conversation.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Oh, and by the way, the libertarian response to private companies that do things we don’t like, is not to say, "There oughtta be a law!" There are enough laws already.

The proper response to companies doing something unpleasant, but legal, is to boycott them, sue them, and heap public contumely on them. The second one person is harmed by a stalker who obtained phone records to stalk his victm, for instance, you slam them with a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
I’m with Dale. I disagree with what is happening but I’m sick and tired of the knee-jerk reaction to run to Congress every time. This is one of the reasons we are in the mess we are in - because we look to Daddy Gov to solve every problem that we have and it gladly takes on the power required to do so. Thank God this sort of paternalistic mentality was in short supply in 1776. Why not organize a massive refusal to pay our cell phone bills? THAT would get their attention promptly.

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
I agree to some extent, guys, but there’s more to this than a phone company selling their internal information without prior approval.

For one thing, the phone companies do already have rules against this. Apparently, those rules are being circumvented, but the law does not deal with the fraud being perpetrated on the phone companies, so they have little recourse. The laws introduced by Schumer are to criminalize the "stealing and selling" of phone logs. Couple relevant links:

Sun Times:
Some online services might be skirting the law to obtain these phone lists, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for legislation to criminalize phone record theft and use. In some cases, telephone company insiders secretly sell customers’ phone-call lists to online brokers, despite strict telephone company rules against such deals, according to Schumer. And some online brokers have used deception to get the lists from the phone companies, he said.
[...]
He said a common method for obtaining cell phone records is "pretexting," involving a data broker pretending to be a phone’s owner and duping the phone company into providing the information.

"Pretexting for financial data is illegal, but it does not include phone records," Schumer said. "We already have protections for our financial information. We ought to have it for the very personal information that can be gleaned from telephone records."
Information Week:
The Telecommunications Act forbids telecom companies from using or disclosing consumer proprietary network information without customer approval, unless required by law or permitted by certain exceptions. The data "is protected by statute and regulation," Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Epic’s West Coast director, said in a telephone interview. "The problem is, in implementing the regulations, the main concern was marketing use. And the regulations do not adequately address other uses, such as a private investigator calling up and getting the data."
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Ok, so the law IS ALREADY being violated, in some cases, to provide this information, but we need a new LAW? In other cases, insiders are selling the information, at risk of their jobs, but the threat of jail willdeter them? I just think that the need is to enforce existing law or company policies.

If the telecoms would pool their money as software manufacturers did to fight piracy, and sue one list provider, they might slow this down, especially if along the way they can fire some of their own employees (pour encourager les autres.)

All this might be better than Chuck Schumer getting involved and Congress.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"He said a common method for obtaining cell phone records is "pretexting," involving a data broker pretending to be a phone’s owner and duping the phone company into providing the information."
I can’t imagine this is efficient. How many records can you gather this way in a day? Seems very labor intensive. How many can you gather before the phone company is suspicious?
"Pretexting for financial data is illegal, but it does not include phone records,"
"legislation to criminalize phone record theft"
Why doesn’t existing law against property theft cover this? Is the law so convoluted that each and every specific instance must be explicitly spelled out?
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Wow.


I want my boyfriends cell phone records.


This is so cool.

 
Written By: cindy
URL: http://
Wow.


I want my boyfriends cell phone records.


This is so cool. Can I get his GPS location too?

 
Written By: cindy
URL: http://
Smith v. Maryland, 442 US 735 (1979) for those who are interested, "[a]n individual has legitimate expectation of privacy in the numbers dialed on his telephone...because he voluntarily conveys those numbers to the telephone company when he uses the telephone." I believe this was Dale’s point.
 
Written By: jinnmabe
URL: http://
I think Smith reads, "a]n individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in the numbers dialed on his telephone...because he voluntarily conveys those numbers to the telephone company when he uses the telephone."

You know the phone company is recording the numbers you call. Indeed, you see a bill at the end of the month that lists these several calls and their durations. Simply by using a phone, you provide that information voluntarily to a compnay which stores them, which automatically makes them available to an unknown number of unknown persons. Your call records are in no way private, which was my point.

Indeed, the government doesn’t even need a search warrant to get them. A simple subpoena to the phone company by a prosecutor will obtain your LUDs within 24 hours.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
On a philosophical level I don’t understand how what many term "the right to privacy" includes or equates to "the right to anonymity" in all of their dealings.

On the other hand, I consider a phone company’s possession on any information relating to my usage to be an ethical obligation, compelling them to handle that information judiciously. So while it may not be illegal, the instances of abuse that I have seen documented are a violation of trust. Eventually, I lose faith in companies and individuals that don’t maintain the standards I expect in terms of trust and integrity and they lose my business. If we call on Congress every time we are offended by this type of violation... well there just isn’t time enough in a day, is there?
 
Written By: Al Warner
URL: http://
Simply by using a phone, you provide that information voluntarily to a compnay which stores them, which automatically makes them available to an unknown number of unknown persons.

Just so. Indeed, since many of us use and expect caller ID to work, you will be sending your phone number along the transmission path to your destination telephone. That will probably include companies with whom you have no contract at all.

Even better, the person you called will have a record of you calling him (especially if you call a cell phone). Nothing prevents them from publishing that information, is there?

As a slightly related question, is it considered legal to go to someone’s mailbox, open it, and read the addresses on the outbound letters? Are US postal workers sworn to secrecy about what is printed upon the envelopes?

 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
This is crazy. The FCC, Congress, Senators, and Carriers must have all known this has been going on for more than a decade. Probably since the cell phone was invented. Heck, in most states I assume these private investigators need to be licensed by the state and most are ex-cops. Just search Google and read some Private Eye training materials (I typed Private investigator Training - over 58,000 links) It’s no secret that they have been using "pretext" for decades. It’s how they do their jobs. And are licensed by the states.

I would bet it’s no surprise to any lawmaker, policy maker or the FCC that with the advent of the internet these services are being offered on a larger scale. This is America - Capitalism at it’s finest. Some of the stuff we are seeing now on the internet is only the beginning. This is a new industrial revolution. I think it’s all political B.S., "who can make a name for themselves".

If you don’t want your cell phone records out there put a password on your account. If you don’t like your carrier, buy a prepaid Cell phone. Heck I found out you can even have your carrier remove the call details from your bill, I did it.

Like others have said, why do people cry to the Gov’t and Feds to protect them, when they can do it themselves. Do we really need to spend tax payer money to create new laws about friggin privacy. What ever happend to the freedom of information act (I think that’s part of the 1st ammendment - correct me if I’m wrong).

America is becoming a bunch of whiners and gasbags. It seems like all these organizations know how to do is cry to mommy Government. If the media and these groups were so concerned about the public instead of their own agenda they would do more educating than complaining.

Now they are crying whaaaaaaa... johnny took my cell phone records and won’t give them back.. boo hoo. How about educating the public how to protect them. I figured it out, why can’t they.

As far as reporters getting cops calls and that blogger getting Gen Wesley’s info that’s just wrong. But if the cops, FBI and other gov’t folks don’t have their s#@t protected by passwords or something, that’s just nuts. If this wasn’t in the media does anyone think Gen Wesley’s info would have never been requested by someone. Hey, don’t you need to know the persons phone number first anyway?

With all the technology and encryption stuff available today you mean to tell me that the phone carriers can’t encrypt internal info so their employees can’t see the calls. Why don’t the carriers have protection in place if they thought this was such a big problem. I’d bet it wasn’t a big problem until the media and these groups got involved. That’s America in the new millenium ... life goes on.
 
Written By: mike
URL: http://
Do you really believe that the President of the United States doesn’t have an expectation of privacy when he is on the phone?

Wait and see who gets their records hidden, while the rest of us are not afforded the same liberties.

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Unknown, didn’t Mike just get through saying that you could get your own records blocked if you wanted to? So why should it astonish you if famous or important people do just that?
 
Written By: Wacky Hermit
URL: http://organicbabyfarm.blogspot.com
It it just backwards. ’Opt In’ if you want your records public.

I DO have an expectation of privacy, no matter what the Sumpreme Court has ruled. I contract with a phone company to provide me phone service. In order for them to provide this service, I must provide them with a phone number; however, I do not then expect that information to leave the phone company.

BTW, do you really think that the President has physically ’Opted Out’ of having his records public? Of course not.
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Yes, Dale, you’re right, I omitted the no, and that obviously totally changes the meaning. Sorry.
 
Written By: jinnmabe
URL: http://
can you get calls from sprint phones?
 
Written By: gia
URL: http://

 
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