A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Friday demanded thatoperators of Web sites that sell telephone records such as calllogs detail how they obtain that information without the telephonecustomers’ permission.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to owners ofWeb sites, including Phonebust.com and Datafind.org, telling themto turn over information, including their annual revenues, theirtop customers and all methods they use to obtain customer telephonerecords.
The committee gave the Web site operators a deadline of Feb. 17 torespond.
Such Web sites “offer criminals, stalkers and any other payingcustomer the detailed records of a person’s private calls,” thecommittee said in a press release. The committee letter questionedhow Web sites can legally sell telephone records. Critics ofcompanies selling telephone logs say many businesses selling phonerecords get them by tricking telephone carriers and posing as thecustomer whose records they want.
“It is very disconcerting that certain online data broker companiesare exploiting consumers’ personal records and selling theinformation to whomever pays for the records,” said the letter,signed by committee chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, andthree other committee members. “With the exception of thelegitimate activities of law enforcement authorities, who in anyevent have legal means for acquiring such information, we struggleto find any ethical justification for marketing this data.”
At a hearing on telephone record data brokers Wednesday, Bartonpromised an investigation into Web sites that sell phone logs andother personal information. “I can only guess at the excuses thatwill be offered by people who profit by engaging in an obviousfraud, by invading personal privacy and by assisting criminalbehavior,” he said then.
A woman who answered the telephone at PDJ Services of Granbury,Texas, which manages Phonebust.com, said company officials wouldnot comment on the committee’s actions. When told the committee wasseeking information on the sale of telephone records, she said, “Wereally don’t offer that service.”
Yet, Phonebust.com’s front page offers to sell a name and addressassociated with a mobile phone number for US$49. Phonebust.com alsooffers names and addresses associated with unlisted phone numbersand names and addresses from disconnected phone numbers.
The woman, who didn’t give her name, said the committee had not yetcontacted PDJ Services. Asked if someone else at PDJ could comment,the woman said no. “You can call all day, and you’re not going toget any information,” she said. “If there’s anyone who can give youthat information, you’re never going to get to talk to them.”
Steven Schwartz, director of First Source Information SpecialistsInc., of Tamarac, Florida, was not immediately available forcomment. First Source Information Specialists manages theDatafind.org, Locatecell.com, Celltolls.com andPeoplesearchamerica.com, according to the committee.
Privacy group the Electronic Privacy Information Center firstraised concerns about the sale of telephone records in mid-2005.This month, committee member Edward Markey, a MassachusettsDemocrat, announced that he’s asked the U.S. Federal CommunicationsCommission and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Websites that sell telephone records.