May 2, 2006- Statement in Support of HR 4942 - Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act

Mr. Speaker I am pleased to see this legislation on the floor today and thank Chairman Barton for his work on this issue.

In November 2005, news reports began to surface of the commercial availability of consumer telephone records by companies like www.celltolls.com and other web-based companies that sell private cell phone records for as low as $89.95.  A CBS – 4 Boston news report detailed that consumer phone records and billing information are now available for sale on several Internet websites.

At the time, I noted that it was already ILLEGAL to disclose this information without the approval of telephone subscribers and sent letters to Chairmen Kevin Martin of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Deborah P. Majoras of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requesting that immediate action be taken by the FCC and the FTC in order to halt the sale of consumers’ private information on a secret black market.

The letters also requested that the agencies provide information regarding the steps that carriers are currently obligated to take under FCC rules to secure and protect consumer information.

In January, 2006, I received a response from the Chairman of the FCC indicating that the agency had decided to undertake an investigation and was looking into whether telephone companies are taking adequate steps to protect consumer phone records.  In addition the FCC and the FTC were coordinating efforts to combat this rising fraud.  The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission wrote Rep. Markey that the FTC has the power to immediately “bring a law enforcement action against a pretexter of telephone records if it has reason to believe such pretexter’s activities constitute an unfair and deceptive business practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act.”

I noted at the time that the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission must use their legal enforcement authority to prosecute individuals who illegally access phone records and to otherwise use their regulatory authority to put an end to these unacceptable violations of consumer privacy.

Meanwhile, under Chairman Barton’s leadership, the Energy and Commerce Committee introduced, marked up and reportedly favorably strengthening amendments.  The bill as reported would make it unlawful to attempt to obtain, or cause to be disclosed to any person, customer proprietary network information (CPNI) relating to any other person by: (1) making a false or fraudulent statement to an officer, employee, or agent of a telecommunications carrier; or (2) providing any document or other information to such officer, employee, or agent that the presenter knows or should have known to be forged, lost, stolen, or otherwise fraudulently obtained, or to contain a false or fraudulent statement or representation. It also prohibits: (1) the solicitation of another person to fraudulently obtain such information; and (2) the sale or other disclosure of CPNI obtained under false pretenses, and it provides for enforcement through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

I was an original cosponsor of this bill and appreciate the hard work that the committee has put into it to bring it before the House today.

The bill also accomplishes another consumer privacy goal, thanks to an amend the Rep. Joe Pitts and I were able to add during markup.

The Pitts-Markey Amendment, H.R. 1139 – the “Wireless 411 Privacy Act”, added language that makes clear that a cell phone subscriber has the right to presume that his/her cell phone number is private, not public, and that providers do not have the right to publish those private phone numbers without the express prior permission of the subscriber. 

Almost 200 million cell phones are used by Americans every day. It is the right of consumers – not companies – to decide who can contact them at any moment.  Moms and Dads across America who buy cell phones to keep track of their kids should not have to fear that the entire world can access their children in a public directory.

This provision by itself is a huge victory for consumer privacy.  Consumers should not be subject to the unwanted privacy intrusion of having their cell phone records put on display without their express permission.

In sum, I urge my colleagues to support this bill.  It will help thwart the public sale of personal phone records, and it will head off the misguided notion of some providers that they publish private phone numbers as if they were public.

This is a great day for consumer privacy.