Saturday, July 09, 2005

Your personal information is for sale - Mobile phones edition

The Washington Post reports on the open sale of mobile phone (cell phone) records in the US. Excerpt:
Think your mate is cheating? For $110, will provide you with the outgoing calls from his or her cell phone for the last billing cycle, up to 100 calls. All you need to supply is the name, address and the number for the phone you want to trace. Order online, and get results within hours.

Carlos F. Anderson, a licensed private investigator in Florida, offers a similar service for $165, for all major telephone carriers.

"This report provides all the calls with dates, times, and duration on the billing statement," according to Anderson's Web site, which adds, "Incoming Calls and Call Location are provided if available."


Such records could be used by criminals, such as stalkers or abusive spouses trying to find victims.


"Information security by carriers to protect customer records is practically nonexistent and is routinely defeated," said Robert Douglas, a former private investigator and now a privacy consultant who has tracked the issue for several years.

Experts say data brokers and private investigators who offer cell phone records for sale probably get them using one of three techniques.

They might have someone on the inside at the carrier who sells the data. Spokesmen for the telephone companies said strict rules prohibiting such activity make this unlikely. But Joel Winston, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission's Financial Practices Division, said other types of data-theft investigations have shown that "finding someone on the inside to bribe is not that difficult."

Another method is "pretexting," in which the data broker or investigator pretends to be the cell phone account holder and persuades the carrier's employees to release the information. The availability of Social Security numbers makes it easier to convince a customer service agent that the caller is the account holder.

Finally, someone seeking call data can try to get access to consumer accounts online.
I've written before about similar problems in Ireland.

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