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Did You Know that Anyone Can Easily Access Your Cell Phone Records?

When it comes to making calls from your wireless phone, it turns out nothing is sacred. For around $100 (sometimes less, sometimes up to $440), anyone can buy a list of everyone you've called from your cell phone for the last month. Sometimes they can also get your incoming calls and call locations, too.

Cell Phone Records

Not sure you want anyone to know who you've been calling -- or who's been calling you? You may want to think twice about using your cell phone.

Even if your intentions are completely innocent -- such as planning a surprise party for your spouse or seeing a therapist -- no one wants to have their personal information available to anyone who's willing to pay for it. Yet federal officials have just begun to investigate, and do something, about the problem.

"This is a person's associations," said Daniel J. Solove, a George Washington University Law School professor. "Who their physicians are, are they seeing a psychiatrist, companies they do business with ... it's a real wealth of data to find out the people that a person interacts with."

If information like this falls into the wrong hands, such as those of a criminal, abusive spouse or stalker, it could seriously compromise not only a person's privacy but also their personal safety.

Only Phone Companies Have These Records

Unlike social security and credit card numbers, which are given out regularly by both individuals and companies over the course of any given day, phone companies are the only ones that have access to cell phone records.

The companies ensure customers that steps are taken to protect their privacy.

Said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, in a Washington Post article, "There are probably 100 such sites" that their security officials know of, and they "have historically, and will continue to, change policies to reflect the changing nature of criminal activity."

However, Web sites such as and others routinely provide this information to anyone who requests it.

Cell Phone Records Within Three Hours

When the FBI decided to investigate this issue, they paid $160 to buy the cell phone records of an agent. Not only did they receive them -- they received them within three hours.

"Not only in Chicago, but nationwide, the FBI notified its field offices of this potential threat to the security of our agents, and especially our undercover agents," said Frank Bochte, a spokesman for the FBI in Chicago. "We need to educate our personnel about the dangers posed by individuals using this site and others like it. We are stressing that they should be careful in their cellular use."

The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper also investigated. They paid $110 to the same Web site and were able to purchase a one-month record of cell phone calls for one of their reporters. All that was needed, the Sun-Times reported, was a cell phone number and a credit card number.

Outlawing Free-Reign of Cell Phone Records

On April 6, 2006, Maine became one of the first regions in the country to do something about all of this. The Maine House has passed a bill that makes selling personal cell phone records illegal in the state. The legislation is now being used as a model for other states.

"As we speed through the technology age, new threats lurk behind every virtual corner," said Rep. John Brautigam, D-Falmouth, who introduced the bill. "These days our privacy seems all too vulnerable, fragile and underappreciated. This bill is a small step to protect that foundational right."

The bill not only protects call records, but also the private sale of information that may be installed on or transmitted by a phone.

Cell Phone Records

The FBI was able to purchase online a record of cell phone calls made by one of their own agents -- in about three hours.

This protects consumers from "spyware" programs that can be installed on cell phones, allowing companies to view and sell everything and anything on the phone -- from photos, to contact phone numbers to text messages.

In March, a U.S. Senate panel also developed legislation that would make it illegal to acquire, use or sell a person's confidential phone records, unless written consent had first been received.

The bill applies to wireline, wireless and VOIP records, and also bans "pretexting," which refers to companies or individuals obtaining private phone records using false pretenses.

"Making it illegal to buy and sell this personal information will give consumers the protection they deserve and expect. Americans' phone records should be private and protected like their medical records," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) in a statement.

The bill was approved on a voice vote, and has now moved to the Senate floor for approval. Similar House legislation is also awaiting a full floor vote.

Still, some argue that there's still more that should be done to protect Americans' privacy.

"Who you call, when, and how long you talk is like a diary of your private life. The committee recognized consumers' wishes to keep their phone records private and keep their cell phone number unlisted, but we are urging stronger privacy safeguards be added on the floor of the Senate," said Magda Herrera, policy advocate for Consumers Union.

Recommended Reading

How to Save Big Money on Your Phone Bill

The Easiest Ways to Opt Out of Telemarketing Calls, Junk Mail, and More


Senate Passes Phone Data Confidentiality Bill

House Passes Emergency Bill to Protect Consumer's Cell Phone Records

Washington Post: FCC Probes Selling of Cell Phone Records

Washington Post: Online Data Gets Personal: Cell Phone Records for Sale

Your Phone Records are for Sale

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