House chairman promises bill banning sale of phone logs
Bill from Joe Barton joins several others recently introduced
IDG News Service - WASHINGTON -- The influential chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee promised today to introduce legislation outlawing the sale of telephone call logs, a practice that some privacy groups and lawmakers have denounced.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the committee chairman, is one of the first Republicans to get involved in the privacy issue. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) first filed a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission about the practice in July. The privacy advocacy organization says it has identified 40 Web sites that sell telephone records, particularly incoming or outgoing calls from mobile phones, and other personal information without the owner's consent.
"The principle behind all this is simple and straightforward: Our private lives belong to us, not to either the telephone company or the con artists," Barton said in a statement.
Barton said he plans to offer a bill that would make it illegal to impersonate a customer in an effort to gain access to telephone records. The practice, called pretexting, is illegal when used to gain financial records, but not when going after phone records, Barton said.
"I mean to make it very illegal," Barton added. "It is also possible because telephone companies may not be doing enough to protect consumer privacy, and I will make it clear that companies owe their customers a duty to privacy and need to devise new ways to foil pretexters."
Several telephone carriers have supported enforcement actions against companies that sell phone records. But some carriers have opposed regulations that would require them to improve security standards, EPIC said. For example, SBC -- now called AT&T Inc. -- filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission saying it has an extensive internal security policy, but it opposed a government mandate. A mandate would become obsolete quickly, AT&T said.
"Mandated security measures... are not the solution," AT&T said in its FCC filing. "Fraudsters are inventive and always try to stay one step ahead. As soon as the carriers implement mandated security measures, these fraudsters will immediately try to figure out a way around them."
In July, Verizon Wireless Inc. filed a lawsuit against a group of companies it accused of selling mobile phone records.
Last week, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) announced that the FCC would investigate the sale of telephone records. And yesterday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill making it illegal to sell telephone call logs (See "New legislation would prohibit sale of phone call logs"). Two House members said they also plan to introduce a bill.
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