Data Security: Protecting the Privacy of Phone Records
CRS Report for Congress
Data Security: Protecting the Privacy of
Updated May 17, 2006
Gina Marie Stevens
American Law Division
Tara Alexandra Rainson
Knowledge Services Group
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Data Security: Protecting the Privacy
of Phone Records
The privacy of cellular telephone records has become a high-priority item on the
congressional agenda. According to recent press accounts, numerous websites
advertise the sale of personal telephone records. In addition, recent media
disclosures regarding an alleged National Security Agency (NSA) program designed
to collect and analyze information on telephone calling patterns within the United
States has raised interest in the means by which the government may collect phone
records. For further information, see CRS Report RL33424, Government Access to
Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities.
Hearings have been held in both the House and Senate regarding the sale of
phone records. Several bills have been introduced to address the breach of phone
customers’ privacy and to prevent the fraudulent acquisition of telephone records
(H.R. 4657, H.R. 4662, H.R. 4678, H.R. 4709, H.R. 4714, H.R. 4943, S. 2177, S.
The first approach prohibits the practice of pretexting to obtain confidential customer
information, expands the enforcement authority of the FTC, and requires the FCC to
issue rules to implement information security programs (e.g., H.R. 4943, S. 2389).
The second approach would create new criminal penalties for fraudulently obtaining
and disclosing phone records (e.g., H.R. 4709, S. 2178).
H.R. 4709 was reported by the House Judiciary Committee and passed by the
House, 409-0, on April 25. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported S. 2178, which
is nearly identical to H.R. 4709. The House Energy and Commerce Committee
reported H.R. 4943. The House was scheduled to consider H.R. 4943 on May 2, but
the bill was removed from the floor schedule because of jurisdictional concerns in
the House Intelligence Committee. The Senate Commere, Science, and
Transportation Committee reported S. 2389. Senate Majority Leader Frist has
directed the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees to work together on a bill.
The FCC has granted a petition for a rulemaking to determine whether enhanced
security and authentication standards for access to customer telephone records are
warranted. The FTC has filed complaints charging five Web-based businesses with
violating the Federal Trade Commission Act. At least five State Attorneys General
have also sued data brokers to enjoin the acquisition and sale of customer records.
This report discusses recent legislative and regulatory efforts to protect the
privacy of customer telephone records, and efforts to prevent the unauthorized use,
disclosure, or sale of such records by data brokers. In addition, it provides a brief
overview of the confidentiality protections for customer information established by
the Communications Act of 1934. It does not discuss the legal framework for the
disclosure by telephone companies of phone records to the government. For an
overview of federal law governing wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping, see
CRS Report 98-326, Privacy: An Overview of Federal Statutes Governing
Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping. This report will be updated when
Federal Trade Commission Act...........................3
The Communications Act...............................3
Customer Proprietary Network In formation
Federal Communications Commission
Data Security: Protecting the Privacy
of Phone Records
According to recent press accounts and a recent petition filed with the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) by the Electronic Privacy Information Center1
(EPIC), numerous websites advertise the sale of personal telephone records.
Specifically, data brokers advertise the availability of cell phone records, which
include calls to and from a particular cell phone number, the duration of such calls,
and may include the physical location of the cell phone. In addition to selling cell
phone call records, many data brokers also claim to provide calling records for
landline and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones, as well as nonpublished
phone numbers. Data brokers claim to be able to provide this information fairly
quickly, in a few hours to a few days.
Although personal information such as Social Security numbers can be found2
on public documents, phone records are stored only by phone companies. For this
reason, data brokers are alleged to have obtained phone records from the phone
companies themselves, albeit without their approval. It is also believed that data
brokers have taken advantage of inadequate company security standards to gain
access to customer telephone information. Data brokers are thought to employ three
different practices to obtain customer telephone records without the approval of the
customer. The first method occurs when an employee of one of the phone companies
sells the records to the data broker. The second method occurs through a practice
called “pretexting,” where a data broker pretends to be the owner of the phone and
obtains the records from the telephone company under false pretenses. The third
method is employed when a data broker obtains the customer’s telephone records by
accessing the customer’s account on the Internet.
Phone companies are believed to have strict rules preventing and guarding
against the employee sale of telephone records and the unauthorized acquisition of
customer information. On the other hand, private investigators, often routine users
of telephone customer record data, state that information security by carriers to
protect customer records is practically nonexistent and is routinely defeated. The
1 Petition of the Electronic Privacy Information Center for Rulemaking to Enhance Security
and Authentication Standards for Access to Customer Proprietary Network Information, CC
Docket No. 96-115 (filed Aug. 30, 2005), at [http://www.epic.org/privacy/iei/].
2 Jonathan Krim, “Online Data Gets Personal: Cell Phone Records for Sale,” Washington
Post, July 8, 2005, at D01.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has indicated that data-theft investigations have
shown that “finding someone on the inside to bribe is not that difficult.”3
Pretext calling for customer telephone records occurs when the data broker or
investigator pretends to be the cell phone account holder and persuades phone
company employees to release the information. The public availability of personal
identifiers, like the Social Security number, makes it easier for someone to
impersonate the account holder to convince the employee that they are the account
Telephone companies are encouraging customers to receive electronic
statements and to access customer accounts online. Typically, online accounts are
set up in advance, to be activated at a later date by the customer. If someone can
figure out how to activate and access the online account of the customer, the call
records can be obtained.
With respect to the issue of who is purchasing the phone records from data
brokers, EPIC recently investigated this question and concluded that attorneys are
among the top users of private investigators and pretexting. In response to its
finding, EPIC wrote to State Bar Ethics Committees, noting that “it has become
increasingly clear that attorneys are major consumers of pretexting services. In this
letter, we request that appropriate action be taken to ensure that attorneys in your
state are not employing investigators or other companies to engage in pretexting or
Although there is no single federal law governing data brokers, other statutes
and regulations may be applicable. A review of the laws regulating use and
disclosure of information collected by information brokers appears in CRS Report
RL33005, Information Brokers: Federal and State Laws, by Angie A. Welborn.
Certain sectors are currently subject to legal obligations to protect sensitive personal
information. These obligations were created, in large part, through the enactment of
federal privacy legislation in the financial services, health care, government, and
Internet sectors. Federal regulations issued to carry out requirements of federal
privacy laws impose obligations on covered entities to implement information
security programs to protect personal information. For further information, see CRS
Report RS22374, Data Security: Federal and State Laws, by Gina Marie Stevens.
3 Federal Legislation Introduced to Stop the Sale of Phone Records, (Jan. 20, 2006) at
[ ht t p: / / www.govt ech.net / magazi ne/ channel _st or y.php/ 97955] .
4 Electronic Privacy Information Center, Letter to Ethics Board Concerning Attorneys’ Use
of Pretexting (Feb. 21, 2006) at [http://www.epic.org/privacy/iei/attyltr22106.html#_ftn1].
Although pretext calling for financial information is illegal, telephone records
are not included in this prohibition.5 Several federal statutes address illegal conduct
associated with identity theft and pretext calling.6
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Section 523 of the act makes it a crime to obtain
customer information of a financial institution by means of false or fraudulent
statements to an officer, employee, or agent or customer of a financial institution, or
to request another person to obtain customer information from a financial institution
if the requester knows that the information will be obtained by making a false or
Federal Trade Commission Act. The FTC may bring a law enforcement8
action against a pretexter of telephone records for deceptive or unfair practices.
Using its authority under Section 5, the FTC has brought a number of cases against
businesses that use pretexting to gather financial information on consumers.
Currently, the FTC is investigating data brokers that use pretexting to gather
customer telephone records and is working with the FCC, which has jurisdiction over
telecommunications carriers subject to the Communications Act.
The Federal Trade Commission has filed federal court complaints in Maryland,
Wyoming, Florida, California, and Virginia charging five Web-based operations that
have obtained and sold consumers’ confidential telephone records to third parties
with violating Section 5(a) of Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a),
which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. The
agency is seeking a permanent halt to the sale of the phone records and a rescission
of contracts, restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and other equitable relief.9
The Communications Act. Telecommunications carriers are subject to
obligations to guard the confidentiality of customer proprietary network information
(CPNI) and to ensure that it is not disclosed to third parties without customer
approval or as required by law. Section 222 of the Communication Act of 1934, as
amended, establishes a duty of every telecommunications carrier to protect the
confidentiality of CPNI.10 Section 222 attempts to achieve a balance between
marketing and customer privacy.
5 See CRS Report RS20185, Privacy Protection for Customer Financial Information, by M.
6 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Identity Theft and Pretext Calling,
Apr. 26, 2001, at [http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/SRLetters/2001/sr0111.htm].
7 15 U.S.C. § 6828.
8 15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58.
9 FTC Seeks Halt to Sale of Consumers’ Confidential Telephone Records, May 3, 2006, at
[ h t t p : / / www.f t c.go v/ opa/ 2006/ 05/ phoner e cor d s.ht m] .
10 47 U.S.C. § 222. Section 222 was added to the Communications Act by the
Telecommunications Act of 1996. Telecommunications Act of 1996, P.L. 104-104, 110 Stat.
CPNI includes personally identifiable information derived from a customer’s
relationship with a telephone company, irrespective of whether the customer
purchases landline or wireless telephone service. CPNI is defined as
(A) information that relates to the quantity, technical configuration, type,
destination, location, and amount of use of a telecommunications service
subscribed to by any customer of a telecommunications carrier, and that is made
available to the carrier by the customer solely by virtue of the carrier-customer
relationship; and (B) information contained in the bills pertaining to telephone11
exchange service or telephone toll service received by a customer of a carrier.
CPNI includes customers’ calling activities and history (e.g., phone numbers called,
frequency, duration, and time), and billing records. It does not include subscriber list
information, such as name, address, and phone number.
In section 222, Congress created a framework to govern telecommunications
carriers’ use of information obtained through provision of a telecommunications
service. Section 222 of the Act provides that telecommunications carriers must
protect the confidentiality of customer proprietary network information. The Act
limits carriers’ abilities to use customer phone records, including for their own
marketing purposes, without customer approval and appropriate safeguards. The Act
also prohibits carriers from using, disclosing, or permitting access to this information
without the approval of the customer, or as otherwise required by law, if the use or
disclosure is not in connection with the provided service.
Section 222(a) imposes a general duty on telecommunications carriers to protect
the confidentiality of proprietary information of other carriers, equipment12
manufacturers, and customers. Section 222(b) states that a carrier that receives or
obtains proprietary information from other carriers in order to provide a
telecommunications service may use such information only for that purpose and may
not use that information for its own marketing efforts.13
The confidentiality protections applicable to customer proprietary network
information are established in section 222(c). Subsection (c)(1) constitutes the core
privacy requirement for telecommunications carriers.
Except as required by law or with the approval of the customer, a
telecommunications carrier that receives or obtains customer proprietary network
information by virtue of its provision of a telecommunications service shall only
use, disclose, or permit access to individually identifiable customer proprietary
network information in its provision of (A) the telecommunications service from
which such information is derived, or (B) services necessary to, or used in, the
11 47 U.S.C. § 222(h)(1).
12 47 U.S.C.§ 222(a).
13 47 U.S.C. § 222(b).
provision of such telecommunications service, including the publishing of14
A carrier must disclose CPNI “upon affirmative written request by the customer, to
any person designated by the customer.”15 Section 222(c)(3) provides that a carrier
may use, disclose, or permit access to aggregate customer information other than for
the purposes described in subsection (1).16 Thus, the general principle of
confidentiality for customer information is that a carrier may only use, disclose, or
permit access to customers’ individually identifiable CPNI in limited circumstances:
(1) as required by law; (2) with the customer’s approval; or (3) in its provision of the
telecommunications service from which such information is derived, or services
necessary to or used in the provision of such telecommunications service.
Exceptions to the general principle of confidentiality permit carriers to use,
disclose, or permit access to customer proprietary network information to (1) initiate,
render, bill, and collect for telecommunications services; (2) protect the rights or
property of the carrier, the customers, and other carriers from fraudulent, abusive, or
unlawful use of, or subscription to, such services; (3) provide any inbound
telemarketing, referral, or administrative services to the customer for the duration of
the call; and (4) provide call location information concerning the user of a
commercial mobile service for emergency.17
Section 222(e) addresses the disclosure of subscriber list information and
permits carriers to provide subscriber list information to any person upon request for
the purpose of publishing directories. The term “subscriber list information” means
any information identifying the listed names of subscribers of a carrier and such
subscribers’ telephone numbers, addresses, or primary advertising classifications, or
any combination of such listed names, numbers, addresses, or classifications; that the
carrier or an affiliate has published, caused to be published, or accepted for18
publication in any directory format.
Customer Proprietary Network In formation (CPNI) Regulations. In 1998,
the Federal Communications Commission issued its CPNI Order to implement19
section 222. The CPNI Order and subsequent orders issued by the Commission
govern the use and disclosure of customer proprietary network information by
telecommunications carriers. When the FCC implemented Section 222,
telecommunications carriers were required to obtain express consent from their
customers (i.e., “opt-in consent”) before a carrier could use customer phone records
14 47 U.S.C. § 222(c)(1).
15 47 U.S.C. § 222(c)(2).
16 47 U.S.C. § 222(c)(3). The term “aggregate customer information” means collective data
that relates to a group or category of services or customers, from which individual customer
identities and characteristics have been removed. 47 U.S.C. § 222(h)(2).
17 47 U.S.C. § 222(d).
18 47 U.S.C. § 222(e).
19 CPNI Order, 13 FCC Rcd 8061.
to market services outside of the customer’s relationship with the carrier. The United
States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down those rules, finding that
they violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.20
Current CPNI regulations require telecommunications carriers to receive opt-in
(affirmative) consent before disclosing CPNI to third parties or affiliates that do not
provide communications-related services.21 However, carriers are permitted to
disclose CPNI to affiliated parties after obtaining a customer’s “opt-out” consent.22
“Opt-Out” consent means that the telephone company sends the customer a notice
saying it will consider the customer to have given approval to use the customer’s
information for marketing unless the customer tells it not to do so (usually within 30
days.)23 Carriers are required, prior to soliciting the customer’s approval, to provide
notice to the customer of the customer’s right to restrict use, disclosure, and access
to the customer’s CPNI.24 Carriers are also required to establish safeguards to protect
against the unauthorized disclosure of CPNI, including requirements that carriers
maintain records that track access to customer CPNI records.25 Each carrier is also
required to certify annually its compliance with the CPNI requirements and to make
this certification publicly available.26 The FCC recently proposed $100,000 fines on
telephone companies with inadequate certifications regarding compliance with FCC
rules protecting customer information from disclosure.27
Penalties. Carriers in violation of the CPNI requirements are subject to a
variety of penalties under the Act.
Carriers in violation of the CPNI requirements are subject to a variety of penalties
under the Act. Under the criminal penalty provision in section 501 of the Act, 47
U.S.C. § 501, any person who willfully and knowingly does, causes or allows to be
done, any act, matter, or thing prohibited by the Act or declared unlawful, or who
willfully and knowingly omits or fails to do what is required by the Act, or who
willfully or knowingly causes or allows such omission or failure, shall be punished
for any such offense for which no penalty (other than a forfeiture) is provided by the
20 U.S. West v. FCC, 182 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir. 1999), cert. denied Competition Policy Instit.
v. U.S. West, Inc., 530 U.S. 1213 (2000).
21 Except as required by law, carriers may not disclose CPNI to third parties or their own
affiliates that do not provide communications-related services unless the consumer has given
“opt in” consent, which is express written, oral, or electronic consent. 47 C.F.R. §§
64.2005(b), 64.2007(b)(3); 64.2008(e); see also 47 C.F.R. § 64.2003(h) (defining “opt-in
22 47 C.F.R. §§ 64.2005(b), 64.2007(b)(1).
23 FCC Consumer Advisory: Protecting the Privacy of Your Telephone Calling Records, at
[ ht t p: / / www.f cc.gov/ cgb/ consumer f a ct s/ phoneabout you.ht ml ] .
24 47 C.F.R. §§ 64.2008.
25 47 C.F.R. §§ 64.2009.
26 47 C.F.R. §§ 64.2009(e).
27 In the Matter of Cbeyond Communications, LLC, 2006 FCC LEXIS 1902, April 21,
Act by a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment up to one year, or both, and in the case of
a person previously convicted of violating the Act, a fine up to $10,000
imprisonment up to two years, or both.
Section 502 of the Act punishes willful and knowing violations of Federal
Communication Commission regulations. Any person who willfully and knowingly
violates any rule, regulation, restriction, or condition made or imposed by the
Commission is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, subject to a maximum
fine of $500 for each day on which a violation occurs.28
Under section 503(b)(1) of the Act, any person who is determined by the
Commission to have willfully or repeatedly failed to comply with any provision of
the Act or any rule, regulation, or order issued by the Commission shall be liable to
the United States for a civil money “forfeiture” penalty.29 Section 312(f)(1) of the
Act defines “willful” as “the conscious and deliberate commission or omission of
[any] act, irrespective of any intent to violate” the law. “Repeated” means that the act
was committed or omitted more than once, or lasts more than one day. If the violator
is a common carrier, section 503(b) authorizes the Commission to assess a forfeiture
penalty of up to $130,000 for each violation or for each day of a continuing violation,
except that the amount assessed for any continuing violation shall not exceed a total
of $1,325,000 for any single act or failure to act.30 To impose such a forfeiture
penalty, the Commission must issue a notice of apparent liability, and the person
against whom the notice has been issued must have an opportunity to show, in
writing, why no such forfeiture penalty should be imposed. The Commission will
then issue a forfeiture if it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the person
has violated the Act or a Commission rule.
Federal Communications Commission Regulatory Actions. The FCC is
examining telecommunications carriers to determine whether they have implemented
safeguards that are appropriate to secure the privacy of customer data. The FCC
launched a proceeding on February 10, 2006, Telecommunications Carriers’ Use of
Customer Proprietary Network Information and other Customer Information, to
determine whether enhanced security and authentication standards for access to
customer telephone records are warranted. 31 In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
(NPRM), the Commission seeks comment on a variety of issues related to customer
privacy, including what security measures carriers currently have in place, what
inadequacies exist in those measures, and what kind of security measures may be
warranted to better protect consumers’ privacy.32
28 47 U.S.C. § 502.
29 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(1).
30 FCC Forfeiture Proceedings, Limits on the amount of forfeiture assessed, 47 C.F.R. Part
31 Federal Communications Commission, FCC Examines Need For Tougher Privacy Rules:
Comment Sought On Measures Proposed by EPIC, (Feb. 10, 2006), available at
32 Federal Communications Commission, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Enhance
The NPRM grants a petition for rulemaking filed by the Electronic Privacy
Information Center (EPIC) expressing concerns about whether carriers are adequately
protecting customer call records and other customer proprietary network information,
or CPNI. In its petition, EPIC proposed five additional security measures to more
adequately protect CPNI. The NPRM specifically seeks comment on these five
measures, which are (1) passwords set by consumers; (2) audit trails that record all
instances when a customer’s records have been accessed and whether information
was disclosed, and to whom; (3) encryption by carriers of stored CPNI data; (4)
limits on data retention that require deletion of call records when they are no longer
needed; and (5) notice provided by companies to customers when the security of their
CPNI may have been breached.
Comments in opposition to the proposed FCC rulemaking were filed by
several telecommunications carriers in the industry that believe the issue can best be
addressed using existing laws.33 Comments were filed with the FCC by the United
States Telecom Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative
Association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Time Warner
Telecom, Inc., the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the Rural
Cellular Association, and T-Mobile USA, Inc. Consumer groups such as the
National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates were generally supportive
of EPIC’s proposal. Public Utility Commissions, California and Texas, also urged
the adoption of strict rules to protect consumer privacy.
In January 2006, a federal district judge in Georgia blocked online data broker
First Source Information Specialist, Inc. from selling the illegally obtained phone
records of Cingular Wireless customers. The complaint stated that the
[d]efendants wrongfully obtain and disseminate confidential customer
information, such as a customer’s call records, through fraud and deception
by engaging in “social engineering,” improper hacking, and/or unauthorized
access to online account information stored on Cingular’s computer
network. For example, Defendants or their agents call Cingular’s customer
service representatives and dishonestly pose as customers seeking
information about his or her own account, pose as fellow employees facing
an urgent access problem in accessing a customer account, and/or access
customers’ online accounts fraudulently, using customers’ passwords34
without their knowledge or consent.
Security and Authentication Standards for Access to Customer Proprietary Network
Information, CC Docket No. 96-115 (Feb. 10, 2006), available at [http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/
33 “Telcos Urge FCC to Shelve Bid For New CPNI Rules, TR Daily, May, 1, 2006.
34 Complaint of Cingular in Cingular Wireless LLC v. Data Find Solutions, Inc., James
Kester, 1st Source Information Specialists, Inc., Kenneth W. Gorman, Steven Schwartz, John
Does 1-100,and XYZ Corps. 1-100, Docket No. 1 05-CV 3269-CC (D.N.D. Ga. filed Dec.
23, 2005) (Cingular Petition). In addition to the Cingular lawsuit, Verizon Wireless has also
The complaint alleged fraud, conversion of property, unfair and deceptive acts and
practices, civil conspiracy, replevin, intentional access of a protected computer
system without authorization in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse
Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)c)), knowingly and with intent to defraud access of a
protected computer system without authorization and/or in excess of authorized
access and obtaining without authorization customer information the value of which
exceeds $5000 in any one-year period in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and
Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § (a)(4)(g)), and trespass to chattels.
The federal district court determined that Cingular had shown a substantial
likelihood of success on the merits with respect to the fraud claim and granted
Cingular’s motion for a temporary restraining order. The court enjoined the
defendants from attempting to obtain information from Cingular regarding any of its
customers; using the name or identity of any Cingular employee or customer;
contacting Cingular; providing Cingular customer information in their possession to
third parties; advertising that defendants can or will obtain information regarding
wireless telephone subscribers; possessing confidential information obtained from
Cingular; and disposing of any confidential Cingular customer information.
At least five states (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, and Texas) have
brought suits against individual information brokers. In Florida, a suit was brought
against First Source Information Specialist, Inc. (doing business as locatecell.com,
celltolls.com, datafind.org, and peoplesearchamerica.com), located in Tamarac,
Florida, the same company sued by Cingular.35 The state sued for deceptive trade
violations in obtaining and selling phone call records through the company’s Internet
sites and is seeking a $50 million fine — $10,000 for each of the 5,000 alleged
transactions in which employees of the data broker impersonated phone company
customers or employees to get copies of people’s phone records.36 Florida has
brought another suit against a second data broker, alleging that it obtained
information by impersonating either customers or telephone company employees to
obtain consumers’ personal calling information.37 Illinois also filed suit against First
Source Information Specialist, Inc.38 In response to a suit filed by the Missouri
sued data brokers, claiming they posed as customers to obtain private calling records and
then advertised and sold the phone call records on the Internet. See, e.g., Cellco Partnership
d/b/a/ Verizon Wireless v. Source Resources, Permanent Injunction on Consent, Docket No.
SOM-L-1013-05 (Sup. Ct. of N.J.; Law Div.: Somerset County, Sept. 13, 2005).
35 Fla. v. IST Source Information Specialists, Inc. (2006), available at
[http://myf loridalegal.com/ webfiles.ns f / W F / M RAY-6 L 8 K GC/ $ f i l e / 1 s t So u r c e _
36 C. B. Hanif, “Private Information, Too Many Prying Eyes,” Palm Beach Post, 1E (Jan.
37 Fla. v. Global Information Group, (2006), available at [http://myfloridalegal.com/
38 Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Madigan Sues Company That Buys Cell Phone
Records: Attorney General Calls Abuse “Privacy Theft,” (Jan. 20, 2006), available at
or selling the cell phone records of Missourians. Missouri also obtained a
preliminary injunction against Locatecell.com, an Internet business that sells cell39
phone records, from conducting business in the state. The Texas Attorney General
has filed suit against a “data broker” and his companies — USA Skiptrace, AMS
Research Services Inc., and Worldwide Investigations Inc. — for fraudulently
marketing consumers’ private phone records.40
Some State Attorneys General have begun investigations into data brokers
that sell phone records. The state of Connecticut has launched an investigation into
several specific companies that obtain and sell personal cellular phone records,41
including a listing of calls consumers make from their phones. The Massachusetts
Attorney General issued letters to Cingular Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular,
and Verizon requesting that the cell phone companies “discuss with us your policies
and practices regarding access to billing and other account information via telephone42
The House Energy and Commere Committee held a hearing on February 1,43
2006, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on
Consumer Affairs, Product Safety, and Insurance held a hearing on February 8,44
2006. In addition, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched an
investigation into website operators that sell customers’ phone records.
Legislation has also been introduced that seeks to improve safeguards over
customers’ phone records. The House Judiciary Committee reported H.R. 4709 on
March 16, and the House passed H.R. 4709 on April 25, 409-0. The Senate Judiciary
Committee reported S. 2178 on March 2 without written report. The House Energy
and Commerce Committee reported H.R. 4943 with report on March 16, and the
[http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/ pressroom/2006_01/20060120.html ].
39 Missouri Attorney General’s Office, Court Orders Web Business to Stop Obtaining,
Selling Cell Phone Records of Missourians, (Feb. 23, 2006) available at
[ ht t p: / / www.ago.mo.gov/ newsr el eases/ 2006/ 022306c.ht m] .
40 Attorney General of Texas, Attorney General Abbott Files First Suit Against Sellers Of
Private Phone Records, (Feb. 9, 2006), available at [http://www.oag.state.tx.us/oagnews/
41 State of Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, Attorney General Continues Investigating
Companies Selling Personal Cell Phone Records, (Jan. 18, 2006), available at
[ h t t p : / / www.ct .gov/ a g/ cwp/ vi ew.asp?A=2426&Q=308758] .
42 The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, AG Reilly Calls on Cell Phone
Companies to Secure Consumer Information, Feb. 9, 2006, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.ago.st a t e .ma.us/ s p.cf m?pagei d=986&i d=1603] .
43 Phone Records for Sale: Why Aren’t Phone Records Safe From Pretexting? Hearing
Before the House Comm. on Energy and Commerce, 109th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Feb. 10, 2006).
44 Protecting Consumers’ Phone Records, Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Consumer
Affairs, Product Safety, and Insurance of the Senate Comm. on Commerce, Science, andthnd
Transportation, 109 Cong., 2 Sess. (Feb. 8, 2006).
Senate Commere, Science, and Transportation Committee reported S. 2389 on March
30.45 The House was scheduled to consider H.R. 4943 on May 2, but the bill was
removed from the floor schedule because of jurisdictional concerns in the House
Generally, the bills follow one of two legislative approaches for the protection
of phone records. The first approach prohibits the practice of pretexting to obtain
confidential customer information, expands the enforcement authority of the FTC,
and requires the FCC to make sure that telecommunications carriers protect the
privacy of customer records (e.g., H.R. 4943, S. 2389). The second approach would
create new criminal penalties for fraudulently obtaining and disclosing phone records
(e.g., H.R. 4709, S. 2178).
Several issues of contention remain to be resolved. These include preemption
of state laws (S. 2389), prohibition on the dissemination of cell phone numbers from
telephone directories by phone companies without the prior written consent of
subscribers (S. 2389, H.R. 4943), requirement for consumer opt-in to the bill’s
protections (H.R. 4943), creation of a private right of action in federal court for
individuals against those who fraudulently obtain their phone records (S. 2389), and
exceptions for intelligence agencies. An additional consideration for the Senate is
whether it will take up the Judiciary (S. 2178) and Commerce (S. 2389) bills
separately, as the House did, or combine them into a single measure. Senate Majority
Leader Frist has directed the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees to work
together on a bill.
H.R. 4657, Secure Telephone Operations Act of 2006 (Lipinski) amends
the federal criminal code to prohibit the sale of telephone customer proprietary
H.R. 4662, Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006
(Blackburn). This bill prohibits the obtaining of telephone records by false
pretenses and the selling or disclosure of records obtained by false pretenses. False
pretenses include making a false statement to a telecommunications carrier or
providing any information to a telecommunication carrier knowing that it is false or
that it was obtained fraudulently or without the customer’s consent. The bill also
requires that a carrier notify a customer when the customer’s records are disclosed
to someone other than the customer. A violation would be treated as a violation of
the Federal Trade Commission Act. All powers and functions of the FTC under that
act are available to enforce compliance. Prescribed penalties include a fine, up to
five years imprisonment, or both. Penalties are doubled for offenses that involve
more than $100,000 or more than 50 customers in a 12-month period, or take place
while violating another federal law.
45 Libby George, “Senate Panel Amendment Could Hang Up Cell Phone Records Protection
Bill,” CQ Today, March 30, 2006.
46 Seth Stern, GOP Leaders Pull Telephone Records Fraud Bill From House Floor Schedule,
CQ Today, May 1, 2006.
H.R. 4678, Stop Attempted Fraud Against Everyone’s Cell and Land
Line (SAFE CALL) Act (Schakowsky). This bill prohibits the obtaining of
telephone records by false pretenses and the selling or disclosing of records obtained
by false pretenses. False pretenses include making a false statement to a
telecommunications carrier or providing any information to a telecommunication
carrier knowing that it is false or that it was obtained fraudulently or without the
customer’s consent. A violation would be treated as a violation of the Federal Trade
Commission Act. All powers and functions of the FTC under that act are available
to enforce compliance. No new penalties established.
H.R. 4709, Law Enforcement and Phone Privacy Protection Act of 2006
(Smith). H.R. 4709 was reported by the House Judiciary Committee (H.Rept.
109-395) on March 16, 2006, and passed by the House on April 25.47 It amends the
federal criminal code to prohibit the obtaining by fraud or other unauthorized means
of confidential phone records information of a consumer from a telecommunications
carrier or IP-enabled voice service provider (covered entity); the unauthorized sale
or transfer of such records by any person, including any employee of a covered entity;
and the purchase of such records with knowledge that they were fraudulently
obtained or obtained without authorization. This bill exempts lawfully authorized
investigative, protective, or intelligence activities of a law enforcement or
intelligence agency. Penalties for the crime of obtaining confidential information
from a covered entity by fraud include a fine for individuals up to $250,000 and up
to $500,000 for companies, and/or imprisonment for up to 20 years. Similar fines are
imposed for the sale, transfer, or attempts to sell or transfer such records without
authorization and for individuals who purchase confidential phone records
information knowing the records were obtained without authorization. For the latter
two offenses, imprisonment up to five years may also be imposed. Enhanced
penalties are provided for violations occurring in a 12-month period involving more
than $100,000 or more than 50 customers of a covered entity. The legislation allows
for enhanced penalties for cases in which the information is used to commit further
crimes, is used to further a crime of violence, or causes substantial financial harm.
The bill directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend, if
appropriate, federal sentencing guidelines and policy statements for the crimes
defined by this act.
H.R. 4714, Phone Records Protection Act of 2006 (Boswell) amends the
federal criminal code to prohibit the intentional sale or fraudulent transfer or use of
the records of a customer or a telephone service provider. Telephone service means
any form of telecommunications service as defined in 47 U.S.C. §153 (46).
Telephone service also includes any form of wireless phone service, including
cellular phones, broadband, and specialized mobile radio service. Penalties include
a fine, up to 10 years imprisonment, or both. An exception is made for providing
customer records to law enforcement.
H.R. 4943, Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act
(Barton). H.R. 4943 was reported by the House Energy and Commerce (H.Rept.
47 Law Enforcement and Phone Privacy Protection Act of 2006: Report of the House
Committee on the Judiciary on H.R. 4709, H.Rept. 109-395 (2006).
109-398) on March 16, 2006.48 H.R. 4943 would prohibit deceitfully obtaining or
selling the personal information of telecommunications customers, including
customers’ phone records. The bill provides an exemption from its prohibitions for
any action by a law enforcement agency in connection with the performance of the
official duties of the agency. The bill also would require telecommunications carriers
to take precautions to safeguard customers’ personal information and to notify
customers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) whenever there is
a breach in the security of this information. The FCC and the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) would enforce these restrictions and requirements. The bill also
would direct the FCC to write regulations regarding security precautions for carriers,
to periodically audit the security practices of telecommunication carriers, and to
prepare reports on the assessment of the new regulations and requirements. It would
increase the penalty for privacy violations to a minimum of $300,000 and a
maximum of $3 million. Under current law, the penalty ranges from $100,000 to $1
S. 2177, Phone Records Protection Act of 2006 (Durbin). This bill
prohibits the sale or fraudulent use of the records of a customer of a telephone service
provider. Telephone service means any form of telecommunications service as
defined in 47 U.S.C. §153 (46). Telephone service also includes any form of
wireless phone service, including cellular phones, broadband, and specialized mobile
radio service. The bill makes an exception for law enforcement agencies that seek to
obtain telephone records in connection with official law enforcement duties. It
imposes a fine, up to 10 years imprisonment, or both.
S. 2178, Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006 (Schumer).
S. 2178 was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee without report on March 2.
This bill amends the federal criminal code to prohibit the obtaining by fraud or other
unauthorized means of confidential phone records information from a
telecommunications carrier or IP-enabled voice service provider, and to prohibit the
sale of such records by any person, including any employee of a covered entity. The
bill exempts law enforcement agencies. It imposes a fine and/or imprisonment for
up to five years, and doubles such penalties for violations occurring in a 12-month
period involving more than $100,000 or more than 50 customers of a covered entity.
S. 2264, Consumer Phone Record Security Act of 2006 (Pryor) prohibits
the unauthorized access or use of customer proprietary network information, the
unauthorized sale of customer proprietary network information, and solicitation to
obtain customer proprietary network information. The bill makes an exception for
law enforcement agencies that seek to obtain telephone records in connection with
official law enforcement duties. A violation would be treated as a violation of the
Federal Trade Commission Act. Concurrent enforcement by the Federal
Communications Commission is also provided for. A State may bring a civil action
on behalf of its residents in an appropriate district court of the United States to
enforce the prohibitions or to impose the authorized civil penalties. An individual
whose customer proprietary network information has been obtained, used, or sold
48 Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act: Report of the House Committee
on Energy and Commerce on S. 4963, H.Rept. No. 109-398 (2006).
may bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction against the person,
excluding a telecommunications carrier, who committed the violation seeking a civil
penalty of not more than $11,000 for each violation of this Act; and such additional
relief as the court deems appropriate, including the award of court costs, investigative
costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees. Telecommunications carriers are required to
comply with additional provisions to protect customer proprietary network
S. 2389, Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act (Allen). S. 2389 was
reported by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on March
30. The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit the unlawful
acquisition and use of confidential customer proprietary network information. This
bill prohibits the acquisition or use of customer proprietary network information
(CPNI) without the affirmative written consent of the customer; misrepresentation
of customer consent to the acquisition or use of CPNI; unauthorized access to system
or records of a telecommunications carrier or an IP-enabled voice service provider
to acquire CPNI; the sale of CPNI; or requests for another person to obtain CPNI in
an unlawful manner. The bill authorizes a civil action in state court or federal district
court by a telecommunications carrier or an IP-enabled voice service provider based
on violations of its provisions or prescribed regulations to recover actual money
damages, and/or $11,000 for each violation. Treble damages may be assessed by the
court for willful and knowing violations. Violators are subject to civil penalties up
to $11,000 per violation or each day of continuing violation up to $11,000,000.
Subscribers are expressly not authorized to bring a civil action for violations of this
Act of section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) is directed to issue regulations (similar to the
Federal Trade Commission’s Safeguards Rule for personal consumer information)
within 180 days of enactment to require a telecommunications carrier or a IP-enabled
voice service provider to ensure the security and confidentiality of CPNI, to protect
CPNI against threats and hazards, and to protect CPNI from unauthorized access or
use that could result in substantial harm or inconvenience to customers. Covered
entities are required to annually certify to the FCC their compliance. Civil forfeiture
penalties for each violation up to $30,000, or 3 times that amount for each day of
continuing violation not to exceed $3,000,000 may be imposed. Criminal fines for
willful and knowing violations may also be imposed. The FCC is required to
promulgate regulations requiring covered entities to notify each customer, within 14
calendar days of any incident the covered entity becomes or is made aware that CPNI
is improperly disclosed. The Federal Trade Commission has primary enforcement
authority for this Act, and violations are to be treated as violations of the Federal
Trade Commission Act. The FCC has concurrent jurisdiction. State Attorneys
General may bring civil actions in federal district court after notifying the FTC and
FCC which has the option of intervening. This bill preempts any state statute,
regulation, or rule that requires covered entities to develop, implement, or maintain
procedures for protecting CPNI, or that restricts or regulates a covered entities ability
to use, disclose, or permit access to such information; and preempts any state law or
court ruling that imposes liability on a carrier or provider for failure to comply with
any statute, rule, or regulation describing in the preceding sentence or with this Act
or with section 222 of the Communications Act or its regulations. The bill does not
preempt state contract or tort law, or other state laws that relate to acts of fraud or
computer crime. The FTC and FCC are required to consumer outreach and education
campaign about the protection of CPNI