February 2, 2006
Madigan speaks out on cell privacy
Attorney General calls sale of phone records an 'outrageous invasion'
By Otto Kreisher
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday condemned the sale of individuals' cell phone records as "an outrageous invasion of privacy that could put lives in danger" and urged Congress to make the apparently widespread practice illegal.
But in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Madigan asked the federal lawmakers not to enact any law that would interfere with states' efforts to stop Web sites from fraudulently obtaining and selling the records of a person's cell phone calls.
Madigan has sued a Florida company that operates such a site, and the Illinois Legislature is considering several bills to outlaw the activity.
Madigan was in good company in urging congressional action against selling cell phone records.
Committee chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, attacked the practice as "an invasion of personal privacy," and declared "if I have anything to do about it, it won't go on much longer."
Barton said he was working with the senior Democrats on his committee to make the practice, known as pretexting, illegal.
Pretexting involves individuals fraudulently representing themselves as the cell phone subscriber to obtain the calling records, or using other deceptive or illegal actions to get the information, then selling the data to a third party.
Witnesses said there were at least 40 and perhaps as many as 100 Web sites offering to provide cell phone data.
Madigan cited the case in which a Chicago police officer was able to obtain detailed records of the cell phone calls of an undercover narcotics unit within four hours for $175.
"For $175, lives were placed in jeopardy," she said.
And she warned against the possibility that an abusive ex-spouse could gain information to track down the former spouse.
The chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission told the committee their organizations have acted to investigate and to stop the companies offering to obtain and sell the phone information.
The two regulators noted that although it is illegal to use pretexting to obtain and sell financial data, telephone information was not specifically outlawed.
Both said a law making sale of the telephone data illegal would be helpful. They also urged additional pressure on the telephone companies to protect their customers' records.
Former Rep. Steve Largent, now president of CTIA, the association representing the wireless communications industry, said the four national wireless carriers all had filed complaints and obtained injunctions "to shut these data thieves down."
Largent also defended the cell phone companies' efforts to protect the records and warned that rigid legislation might not be able to adjust to the criminals' new approaches. He also said requiring the companies to reveal their protective steps "would provide a road map to criminals to avoid fraud detection measures."