Integrity Matters
February 1, 2006

No law to stop sale of phone records

Question: (E-226)

Dear Jim:

Sophisticated pirates access cell phone records and indiscriminately sell the contents. Is this illegal? It lacks integrity, right?


Today, cell phone calling records are for sale on the Internet, violating privacy. So, how did it get started? Perhaps it began with a domestic crisis. An anxious spouse suspected the wayward actions of a partner. Not wanting to hire a private detective to spy, a less costly alternative was available: the information broker. If you want to know who someone is contacting on a cell phone, that information can be bought for less than $200. How is the information gathered? In the largely unregulated world of cellular phones, the con artist, once again, reigns supreme.

It works like this: Someone wants to know the calling activities of a certain individual. That name is given to an information broker. A professional liar telephones a phone carrier, poses as the person whose information is being sought and asks for past calling records. Slick operators define these activities as "pre-text interviews," and companies like Verizon and Cingular seem powerless to stop them. Damning private information, of many kinds, is made available to bludgeon opponents.

Identity theft is the work of these sleazy operators who use criminal behavior to "fool" cell phone suppliers into providing them with confidential information. There seem to be no laws to thwart these activities - at least, not yet. Today, cell phone records are being compromised. Tomorrow, can we expect the same for medical records and then bank records? This corrupt practice reminds me of a cornerstone principle of the Bracher Center's integrity-centered leadership counsel: It should be common knowledge that free markets must operate with integrity, a culture of compliance, or face increasing government oversight. In this instance, the culprits are getting away with inappropriate (even if not yet illegal) actions. Such abuses must be stopped before they permanently damage universal connectedness through the Web.

A computer consultant said: "When using the Internet, assume that what you have written will, or at least can, be accessed by those you would least prefer." As one of our business clients repeated to his employees: "Never say or do anything you would not approve being printed on the front page of the newspaper that your mother reads."

Only integrity-centered oversight will prevent this marvelous creation, the Internet, from enabling criminals to destroy the people and the systems it was designed to improve. Vigilance is the price of liberty.

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