A U.S. Congressman said on Friday that federal agencies were looking into whether telephone companies were sufficiently protecting consumers' records amid concerns that Internet sites were selling cellphone call information.
Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) told him the agency was investigating whether phone companies were adequately protecting consumer records. He said in a statement "the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission were coordinating efforts to combat this rising fraud."
In November, Markey asked the FTC and the FCC to investigate what he said was a violation of private consumer information and to take steps to protect consumers.
The biggest U.S. mobile service, Cingular Wireless, owned by AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp., said late on Friday that it received a temporary restraining order against Data Find Solutions and 1st Source Information Specialists Inc.
It said it had sued the companies alleging they "unlawfully obtained and disseminated Cingular customer records."
Earlier on Friday, CTIA, an industry group representing U.S. mobile telephone services, called for federal and state authorities to investigate Web sites that it says fraudulently obtain and sell consumers' cellphone call information.
CTIA spokesman Joe Farren said call record sales plans were brought to the group's attention by member companies, including Verizon Wireless, which last year sued companies it said were trying to wrongfully obtain private customer information.
"We very much believe that laws are being broken and people are profiting from it," Farren said. "Without prosecution there will continue to be this fraud and subscribers and wireless companies will continue to be the victims."
Company spokesman Tom Pica said Verizon Wireless believes state attorneys general "are the right people to get involved and there is a need for criminal laws to protect customers."
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, plans to propose legislation next week to make it a crime for someone to obtain call information under false pretenses or for a wireless company employee to sell customer information, his spokeswoman Risa Heller said on Friday.
Heller said current customer network information laws apply to phone companies but not to the general public.
An FTC spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a consumer watchdog, has petitioned the FCC to improve rules protecting consumers' call records. The FCC has sought public comment on that request.
Web sites offering call records for a price include locatecell.com, datatraceusa.com and reverserecords.org.
These sites claim that if given certain information, such as cellphone numbers, they can provide data such as call records and the name and billing address associated with a cellphone number in exchange for fees.
Farren said he believes such information is obtained fraudulently. "There's only a couple of ways this can happen. One is impersonation and the other is having somebody inside (cell-phone) companies," he said.
It was not possible to leave a message at the number provided on locatecell.com and the site operators did not immediately reply to an e-mail.
Datatraceusa.com was not immediately contactable. The Web site said its searches were intended for research purposes only and if users needed the data for legal purposes they would have to subpoena the records from the telephone operator.
Reverserecords.org was not immediately contactable. The site said consumers could use its database links to obtain information such as itemized phone bills.
California and New York state prosecutors have been among the most active in protecting consumer rights.
"On its face it seems like an outrageous invasion of people's privacy," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office. Dresslar declined further comment.
Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc, said last year it received a court order to stop a Tennessee company from illegally obtaining and selling private customer records.