The media attention regarding the sale and use of telephone records has resulted in legislative activity. Legislation has been introduced in Congress and is spreading rapidly in the states. Within the last two weeks, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and attorneys general in several states have called for action to prohibit the sale of private phone records and have initiated investigations into several websites offering to sell phone records. This increased scrutiny may present some cause for concern for the survey research profession and again reinforce our need for good information practices and adherence to industry standards.

Legislative Action: Quick on the Federal and State Levels
Senator Schumer (D – NY), with co-sponsors Senators Specter (R-PA) and Nelson (D-FL), have introduced the Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006.

This bi-partisan bill would create felony criminal penalties for stealing and selling the records of mobile phone, landline and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) subscribers. It would also become a crime for a phone company employee to sell consumer data without permission.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) also introduced a bill that would make the sale or fraudulent transfer of telephone records a criminal offense. On the House of Representatives side, Representatives Inslee (D – WA – 1st District) and Blackburn (R – TN - 7th District) will introduce a bill that increases criminal penalties for people who pose as account holders to access telephone and phone records. Missouri, Illinois and Colorado have all introduced legislation aimed at the selling or disclosure of telephone records or call logs. The listing of states will likely grow during the course of the legislative session.

Data Brokers: The Focus of Increasing Scrutiny
Though the survey research profession does not condone practices of deceit or fraud, such practices could be invoked without the profession’s knowledge or awareness. The concern is not toward how the profession utilizes the information, but how data brokers obtain the information. The media is describing data brokers as insiders who illegally sell consumer information or those who impersonate consumers in order to obtain access to call records. As a result, the future of data brokers is one of ever-increasing scrutiny in the legislative and media arenas.