A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would make it illegal for online companies to sell phone records they obtained by posing as account holders.
The bill, approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will likely come to a vote before the full House within the next month, according to information provided by Representative Jay Inslee, a Washington state Democrat and cosponsor of the Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act.
An amended bill approved by the committee bans the sale, lease or rental of telephone records, directs the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strengthen security requirements for carriers to protect customer phone records, and toughens the FCC penalties for violations of customer privacy laws.
“Telephone calling records, which detail some of the most intimate and sensitive aspects of our lives, are easily available to anyone with an Internet connection, a credit card, and $100 to spend,” said committee Chairman Joe Barton, who offered the bill amendment. “Americans are rightfully concerned that identity thieves, stalkers, and unscrupulous data-brokers can access such information they believed was kept private by their telephone company.”
The amendment offered by Barton, a Texas Republican, allows the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to sue operations offering phone records obtained illegally for unfair or deceptive business practices.
This year, members of Congress introduced seven bills targeting the practice of pretexting — fraudulently obtaining a customer’s telephone records from a telecom carrier by impersonating that customer. In January, Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, announced that he asked the FCC and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Web sites that offer to sell mobile phone records, including information about incoming and outgoing calls, for as little as US$89.95.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group, first filed an FTC complaint about pretexting in July, but Congress didn’t pick up on the issue until several media reports on the practice were published. In January, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Chicago Police Department warned police officers that their mobile phone records were available for sale to criminals.
The bill passed out of committee included parts of the bill authored by Inslee and Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. “Americans have had their phone records treated as an easily obtainable commodity and that’s something this legislation should stop,” Blackburn said in a statement. “We’re working to catch up with new technologies. This is a great step toward protecting consumers.”