Friday, January 20, 2006

Cell Phone Records Available For Sale Spells Danger for Domestic Violence Victims

Reports of websites that sell records of cell phone calls have been in the press for months, prompting action this week by lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission. While many have heard about this situation, you may not have considered how this may impact victims of domestic violence or stalking.

Numerous websites have been advertising that they can provide records of incoming and outgoing cell phone calls--for less than $100, in some cases. That kind of information is often used by law enforcement agencies in their investigations. However, stalkers or abusive spouses could exploit the online availability of such data. In addition, some of these brokers will provide information locating those phone calls within 500 – 1000 feet. In cases of victims of domestic violence – this information could be deadly.

Employers that have domestic violence programs and are assisting employees should be aware of this situation when counseling employees about using wireless phones as part of safety planning. Using wireless phones for 911 calls is life-saving, but it is important to caution domestic violence victims regarding the potential for their wireless phone records and phone call locations to be tracked.

Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless have both requested court orders against data brokers accused of obtaining the records through fraud. In addition, Verizon Wireless Call Center team members go through special training to detect such fraud. The Federal Communications Commission's enforcement bureau this week also said it's looking into companies that obtain telephone records without the customer's approval or knowledge. In addition, lawmakers on federal and state levels are introducing legislation to criminalize such activity, and several states are launching investigations into how the companies have obtained the records.

In the meantime, use caution.

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