Sen. Durbin Introduces Cell Phone Privacy Bill

Sen. Dick Durbin introduced a cell phone privacy bill today. From his press release (received by e-mail.)

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation to prohibit the sale, fraudulent transfer or use of cellular telephone records. Durbin's bill would make it illegal to transfer personal information from cell phone companies to online brokers and the legislation provides tough criminal penalties, including up to 10 years in prison, for those found guilty of violating phone users’ privacy.

“The acquisition and sale of an individual’s personal cell phone call list record is a violation of privacy, and can pose a real threat to personal safety,” Durbin said. “The fraudulent acquisition of records needs to be punishable as a true criminal offense, subject to jail time and fines. The sale and transfer of this information needs to be clearly prohibited by law.”

Durbin said that recent reports show that online brokers have illegally obtained cell phone records by posing as customers, hacking into online accounts or by purchasing them from rogue employees of cell phone companies. These records have been made available by these online brokers, for a reasonable price, to anyone who requests them.

The Senator noted that the sale of personal call records is not only a violation of individual privacy; it creates the possibility of identity theft and threatens the personal safety of law enforcement and public officials. There are significant concerns that criminals could use such services to obtain personal information about police, especially undercover officers. Recent investigations indicate that the cell phone records of the Chicago Police Department and public officials have been among those targeted.

In a letter to his Senate colleagues, Durbin wrote “Although current law addresses fraud and identity theft using the internet, enforcement is sparse and is not a priority for the Justice Department. In addition, the law does not specifically prohibit the sale of personal information obtained illegally and without the consent of cell phone customers.”

Durbin emphasized the need to address issues raised by the current patchwork of laws and regulations, which make it difficult to determine whether the information was illegally obtained and easy for violations to slip through the cracks. According to current telecom laws, cell phone companies are obligated to protect customers’ personal information, with the exception of warranted inquiries from law enforcement. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) monitors and regulates telephone companies and their compliance with privacy laws. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles fraud complaints. However, if an online broker obtains telephone records, the law does not prohibit their subsequent sale.

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