A U.S. Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill that would outlaw the practice of posing as a telephone or mobile phone customer to obtain phone records.
The practice, called pretexting, is allegedly used by a number of online companies that sell phone records. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s bill makes it illegal to acquire, use or sell a person’s confidential phone records without that person’s written consent.
“I really do believe … this measure will prevent unscrupulous individuals from obtaining confidential phone records,” said Senator George Allen, a Virginia Republican and lead sponsor of the bill. “It’s what Americans expect.”
The bill, an amended version of the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, also requires voice carriers — including wireline, mobile and VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) providers — to notify customers when someone has gained access to their phone records without authorization. The bill directs the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create phone-record regulations similar to those protecting financial information under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, passed by Congress in 1999.
In addition, the bill streamlines the two-step FCC process for fining groups such as data brokers for selling illegally obtained phone record information, allowing the FCC to proceed without issuing a notice of investigation that could tip off those being investigated. The bill allows civil lawsuits against people who illegally obtain or sell phone records, with a penalty of US$11,000 per record, up to a maximum fine of $11 million.
The FCC can also fine violators $30,000 for each violation, with a cap of $3 million for continuing violations. The Senate bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote.
In early March, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a similar phone-records privacy bill. Members of Congress have targeted the sale of phone records as an issue after media reports in recent months showed that people could buy phone logs, home addresses and other personal information online for less than $100. In January, the Chicago Police Department warned its officers that criminals could buy their phone records online.
-Grant Gross, IDG News Service
For related news coverage, read House Panel Approves Data Protection Bill.
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