Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 6, 2006

Your Phone Records Are For Sale

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:21 pm

And it has nothing to do with the PATRIOT Act, the NSA, or the Bush Administration. According to this article in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Chicago Police Department is warning officers their cell phone records are available to anyone — for a price. Dozens of online services are selling lists of cell phone calls, raising security concerns among law enforcement and privacy experts.

Criminals can use such records to expose a government informant who regularly calls a law enforcement official.

Suspicious spouses can see if their husband or wife is calling a certain someone a bit too often.

And employers can check whether a worker is regularly calling a psychologist — or a competing company.

“Officers should be aware of this information when giving out their personal cell phone numbers to the general public,” the bulletin said. “Undercover officers should also be aware of this information if they occasionally call personal numbers such as home or the office, from their [undercover] ones.”

I want to know why any undercover officer ever thought doing that was safe. But now, getting the call records is not only possible, but easy — and while too expensive for most people to do it for mere curiousity, it’s cheap enough that most people could afford it if they had a serious reason to want to know:

To test the service, the FBI paid Locatecell.com $160 to buy the records for an agent’s cell phone and received the list within three hours, the police bulletin said.

How well do the services work? The Chicago Sun-Times paid $110 to Locatecell.com to purchase a one-month record of calls for this reporter’s company cell phone. It was as simple as e-mailing the telephone number to the service along with a credit card number. The request was made Friday after the service was closed for the New Year’s holiday.

On Tuesday, when it reopened, Locatecell.com e-mailed a list of 78 telephone numbers this reporter called on his cell phone between Nov. 19 and Dec. 17. The list included calls to law enforcement sources, story subjects and other Sun-Times reporters and editors.

Ernie Rizzo, a Chicago private investigator, said he uses a similar cell phone record service to conduct research for his clients. On Friday, for instance, Rizzo said he ordered the cell phone records of a suburban police chief whose wife suspects he is cheating on her.

“I would say the most powerful investigative tool right now is cell records,” Rizzo said. “I use it a couple times a week. A few hundred bucks a week is well worth the money.”

A glance at their web site shows a list of prices, and guaranteed service in 1-4 business hours for cell phone information (calls, name lookup by number, etc.). They also offer landline information, but they don’t list prices and have a “no information, no charge” guarantee, which implies they can’t always get that information.

I wonder if they have a discount plan for heavy users. Do they call it the “frequent spier” program? :-)

Seriously, though: Would it violate the Fourth Amendment if the government used this service to monitor people’s phone calls? What if the NSA used it to scan the call records for people calling terrorists?

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