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News of the Day ... In Perspective

06/26/2006

Police get phone records from private data brokers

Using methods that might violate laws if government agencies used them, private data brokers obtain information that they provide to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, local police, and other agencies. Telephone records can thereby be gathered without the bother of warrants or subpoenas.

The federal government spent an estimated $30 million on personal data last year, but that number probably understates the breadth of transactions, as brokers say they rarely charge law enforcement agencies.

Brokers may aggressively advertise online, break into customer accounts online, and trick phone companies into revealing information.

James Bearden, a Texas lawyer who represents four data brokers, says he clients are being unfairly demonized. “These are people who partner with law enforcement on a regular basis.” He likened the companies’ activities to those of the National Security Agency.

Many of the executives summoned to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on investigations plan to take the Fifth Amendment (Ted Bridis and John Solomon, AP, Ariz Daily Star 6/21/06).

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