Why Are Your Cell Phone Records for Sale?

Gen. Wesley Clark -- former presidential candidate and the former head of NATO -- is a busy man.

He makes a lot of cell phone calls, as documented by the Internet blogger who got his complete bill.

It may be the last thing you think of when using your cell phone, but online information "brokers" have been providing the name and address connected to a cell phone number, an individual's phone number, and even the complete record of outgoing and incoming calls -- all for a nominal fee.

"It's a bad feeling," Clark said. "It's like having someone say, you know, 'Here's your wallet. I've been through all of it, and I think we ought to show what all of your credit cards are and how much money you carry around.' It's just a feeling of your privacy is invaded, and it feels that something that is personal, that belongs to you, is just thrown out there."

John Aravosis, the blogger who found Clark's bill, says he's surprised how easy it was. For $89.95, he was able to go to a Web site and get the bill in a single day -- no questions asked.

"I wanted to show people that if you can get a general and a presidential candidate's phone records, anybody's privacy could be violated," Aravosis said.

No Law Preventing It

Privacy groups say there are about 40 Web sites that will violate your privacy for money, and there's no federal law that prevents it.

Police are concerned that criminals will use such sites to check out informants.

Perhaps your boss is curious to see whether you're calling the competition. And what if a victim of spousal abuse goes to a shelter, and her husband tries to find her?

"Unfortunately, the data brokers have been very hard to track down and get information from," said Kevin Martin, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "There's been an increasing number of people that are concerned about it, so I think our fear is that it has been getting worse."

How are they pulling it off? The phone companies say they're not sure. Most likely the brokers are lying -- calling customer service and posing as customers requesting copies of their own bills.

Several bills are in the works in Congress to make the practice illegal, and cell phone carriers have sued some of the so-called data brokers for fraud. But in the meantime, there's not much consumers can do to protect themselves.

"The laws have to catch up with technology, and sometimes it's hard," Clark said. "I've been through this experience. I hope it's an example."