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House Committee Hears Bill to Ban Sale of Phone Logs

February 22, 2006
By: David Castillo
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1632

JEFFERSON CITY - Taking a cue from the federal government, one Missouri legislator is working to curb the sale of wireless and landline phone logs.

Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, fielded questions from House Utilities Committee members Monday on his bill that would make selling and receiving phone logs without the owner's consent a crime.

The federal government started an investigation into the practice last month and a bill similar to Cooper's has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

"We want to make sure we protect the rights of citizens," said Cooper, who started his testimony saying that he had committee member Rep. Paul LeVota's phone records in his pocket.

According to Beth Canuteson, a Sprint-Nextel representative who testified in support of the bill, the practice of selling phone records has become widespread and easy.

"These unscrupulous phone brokers have given our industry a blackeye," Canutesonn said.

Here's how it works: a company selling phone records first will scour the internet for basic public information like addresses and maiden names, Canutson said. Then they call the phone company and pose as the customer saying that they've forgotten their password. After providing the information that confirms a customer's identity, the phone company will release the requested phone records.

Canuteson said that her company has taken measures to cut down on the fraud and will now only mail the phone records to the customer's home address. Other companies like Cingular Wireless and Verizon Communications have taken similar steps.

Currently, this practice is considered fraud and categorized as a misdemeanor. Cooper's bill would enhance that punishment and make it a felony that includes hefty fines between $500 and $1000, with a prison sentence of up to two years.

The Missouri Attorney General's office has filed suit against these companies that engage in the practice, and Sprint-Nextel has filed a temporary restraining order against them.

"We're basically working to keep people from selling something that isn't theirs," said Brett Barry of the Attorney General's office.

Part of what makes accessing the records so easy, Canuteson said, is that everything is done electronically and customers don't change their passwords.

"People have tons of passwords to remember," Canuteson said. "And, seventy-five to 80 percent of our customers never change their default password."

Under the bill, exemptions to the law would include law enforcement agencies and the Public Service Commission.

"We're not going to tolerate this type of invasion of privacy," Cooper said.

The bill must be approved by the House Utilities Committee before going to the full House.