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June 20, 2006

Government Buys Personal Records From Data Brokers

The AP is reporting that law enforcement agencies are using private data brokers to get phone records on citizens.  The practice allows these agencies to bypass  subpoenas and other messy requirements of conducting a legal investigation.  These are the same kind of services that were vilified in congressional hearings several months ago.  Some data brokers have been sued by state attorneys general and by phone companies for using fraudulent means to get data.  The methodology these companies use does not trouble law enforcement agencies enough to stop their use.

The report notes that agencies such as the FBI, the U.S. Marshall's service, and municipal police departments in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Utah, among others, has taken advantage of data brokers.  The U.S. government paid an estimated $30 million dollars for information last year for personal data.

The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is holding a two day hearing starting tomorrow called "Internet Data Brokers and Pretexting: Who has Access to Your Private Records?"  No other details are available on the hearing (no witness list, statements, etc.) but the issue of government use of these services may possibly come up.  Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky), chair of the subcommittee, suggested that some laws are probably being broken but as the laws are vague, it's hard to know which ones.  OK, although it seems somewhat ironic that the entities charged with enforcing the laws are the ones essentially breaking it, or is that too obvious?  Congress may well be shocked by these practices, as much as Claude Rain's character in Casablanca was shocked to discover gambling going on at Rick's Cafe.

The article points to several examples of purchased data, including:

  • A U.S. Labor Department employee who used her government e-mail address and phone number to buy two months of personal cellular phone records of a woman in New Jersey.
  • A buyer who received credit card information about the father of murder victim Jon Benet Ramsey.
  • A buyer who obtained 20 printed pages of phone calls by pro basketball player Damon Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The article is here via the Houston Chronicle.  The hearing page is here.  Another story about this is from Time Magazine.

June 20, 2006 | Permalink

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