U.S. communications regulators said on Friday they will investigate whether tougher protections are needed to safeguard telephone customer information.
The Federal Communications Commission voted to examine the security measures that telephone carriers have in place and "what kind of security measures may be warranted to better protect consumers' privacy."
The move comes at the request of a privacy watchdog group amid pressure to clamp down on online data brokers that offer to obtain and sell telephone subscriber information. Some Internet sites have since stopped offering the service.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, criticized the agency for dragging its feet on the issue of consumer privacy.
"Privacy issues must always be on the Commission's front burner -- but sometimes they languish," he said, noting one inquiry into privacy safeguards and enforcement was 3-1/2 years old.
"It's time to move ahead. I hope today we begin a new chapter," Copps said.
The FCC, state attorneys general, lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission are all investigating the practices of companies that offer to obtain and sell telephone subscriber information.
The watchdog group, Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, last year asked the agency to consider adopting stricter rules. It also suggested some ideas, including consumer-set passwords, audit records, encryption, limiting retention of call data and notification to individuals and the FCC when a breach occurs.
CTIA, the lobbying group for major wireless carriers, has urged the FCC to avoid imposing new rules. The top U.S. wireless carriers have sought injunctions against some companies from trafficking in telephone subscriber data.
"We don't think that its necessary to take a prescriptive approach, which is what EPIC is suggesting for security," said CTIA spokesman John Walls.
He said the group supports tough enforcement of existing laws that ban the practice. But he said new FCC rules would amount to "giving the criminals a roadmap on how to game the system."