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House lawmaker vows to protect calling data

A key Republican lawmaker said Thursday he would introduce legislation designed to stop the sale of private cell phone records and push wireless carriers to better protect customer privacy.
/ Source: Reuters

A key Republican lawmaker said Thursday he would introduce legislation designed to stop the sale of private cell phone records and push wireless carriers to better protect customer privacy.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he will propose making it illegal to get cell phone records under false pretenses and "substantially increase the penalties" if telephone companies release consumer telephone records without consumers' permission.

"While businesses have legitimate reasons to compile and keep the data that define our lives, they have a responsibility to safeguard it as if it were their own," Barton said in a statement.

Barton's comments came amid a growing backlash against the sale of cell phone records over the Internet.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced similar legislation, which would make it a crime to steal and sell records for cell phones, traditional landline and Internet-based telephones.

Several other House lawmakers, including Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the committee's telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, have indicated they plan to offer legislation.

There are more than 200 million cell phone subscribers, according to a wireless industry organization, CTIA.

T-Mobile, the No. 4 wireless carrier, owned by Deutsche Telekom AG, said Wednesday it had sent cease and desist orders to a number of companies to stop the practice.

The biggest U.S. wireless carrier, Cingular Wireless, owned by AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp., said last week it had obtained a temporary restraining order against two companies, Data Find Solutions and 1st Source Information Specialists Inc.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said last week the agency would take action against telephone carriers that failed to adequately protect consumers records.

He also said it may be up to the Federal Trade Commission to take action against those who fraudulently obtain the data.