Thursday, February 09, 2006

Congress May Crack Down on Data Brokers

The U.S. Congress is continuing its investigation into data brokers, including those who access customer phone records, which became a politically hot topic recently.

Last week that Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton, said at a hearing on data broker practices and "pretexting":

"I can only guess at the excuses that will be offered by people who profit by engaging in an obvious fraud, by invading personal privacy and by assisting criminal behavior."

The committee wants to know all methods used by the data brokers to acquire the information they sell and if any efforts are made to obtain consent from consumers before selling their confidential data.

In particular, the committee aims to find out if the data brokers' employees pose as telephone company customers in order to seek account information, a practice known as "pretexting."

The telephone carriers maintain their customer records are secure and that the data brokers are obtaining the data through pretexting. Current law contains criminal penalties for obtaining another person's financial records under false pretexts, but similar penalties do not exist specifically for telephone records.

The Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters data brokers including First Source Information Specialists and PDJ Services wanting know just how these companies get their information.

The letters suggest that the companies are getting the information illegally.

The letters read in part:

"It is very disconcerting that certain online data broker companies are
exploiting consumers' personal records and selling the information to
whomever pays for the records."

"With the exception of the legitimate activities of law enforcement
authorities, who in any event have legal means for acquiring such
information, we struggle to find any ethical justification for marketing
this data."

"In essence, within literally a matter of hours, someone who purchases such
information from a data broker Web site can gain unauthorized access to an
individual's daily calls and contacts, home and billing addresses, and other
valuable confidential information."

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