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And the best part? Congress and the Executive branch have known about this problem for half a year or more and no one did a damn thing to fix it.
In a nutshell, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story two days ago about a Web site that sells phone records, for cells and land-lines, for $110 a pop. The company boasts on its own Web site:
Give us the cell phone number and we will send you the calls made from the cell phone number.So I went to their site, plopped down $110, and within a day I had a list of every single phone number that called my cell, or that I called from my cell, for the month of November. I even had the dates the calls were made, and for a premium I could find out how long the calls were.
I called Cingular and they were shocked by what I told them - yeah right.
And the best part? The article from the Sun-Times makes clear that the FBI is aware of this problem, the Chicago Police Department, one of the top two electronic privacy groups in the nation (EPIC), and even the office of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). EPIC apparently has known about this problem for a long time, and Schumer didn't seem very surprised either.
So, tell me why our government and our privacy groups have known forever about this problem (the Washington Post wrote an article about this last July), yet no one has done anything to fix it? Oh sure, Schumer "introduced legislation" to fix it and is waiting. Gee thanks Chuck. At least you got your face in front of a camera. This is the kind of story that gets legislation passed in a day, it's so outrageous. Either you don't care or you're incompetent if you introduce legislation on something this outrageous and you have sit back and wait for it to be considered. But hey, at least Schumer tried, so to speak - where were the other Senators and House members? Where is our president?
Now, before you write this off as just another sad story, let me explain to you just how serious the situation really is - not just to your own personal privacy, but to law enforcement, every politician in DC and around the country, and to national security.
1. Are you an FBI agent with confidential sources?
Again, I quote the Sun-Times:
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.2. Are you a police officer with confidential sources?
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.3. Are you a journalist with confidential sources?
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.
Do you think anyone in Washington, DC would like to know who James Risen of the New York Times, the reporter who broke Bush's domestic spying scandal, has been talking to over the last year? Well, just plop down a few hundred bucks and buy his phone records. Kiss his sources goodbye. Or how about Bob Novak? Be fun to find out who he was talking to, oh, around the spring of 2003... Or the phone records of any US reporters - imagine the fun the Bush administration could have LEGALLY getting a record of every single phone call you've ever received or made. Spying on Christiane Amanpour? Who needs to! Her phone records are available for $110 and the click of a button.
4. Are you a Democratic or Republican member of Congress?
Imagine the fun should some rich Democratic or Republican donor plop down $1 million to get the phone records of every single member of Congress from the other party. Who have they been talking to? George Soros? Pat Robertson? Their mistress? Did any of them talk to any reporters on or around the day that any big leak came out of Congress? Did you ever have a phone conversation with Jack Abramoff? I do oppo research for a living - I would give my right thumb to have a list of every phone call made or received by a member of Congress from the other party on their cell phone. Go ahead, make my day.
5. Are you a Bush administration official?
Imagine the fun should someone get Karl Rove's phone records, or Dick Cheney's, or President Bush's.
6. Are you a special prosecutor by the name of Patrick Fitzgerald?
Love to see who HE's been talking to?
7. Are you an Al Qaeda terrorist?
Don't you think they'd love to pull up the phone records of FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security officials to find out if any other Al Qaeda "affiliates" are snitches, or at least to see who they're talking to. Or pull up the records of their own people to see if they've been talking to reporters or FBI agents?
8. Are you a regular old American criminal, a member of the Mafia for example?
Think they'd find it useful to check who among their associates has been talking to reporters, politicians, or law enforcement?
9. Are you someone who's being abused by your spouse?
Wouldn't it be great to have your partner find out you're talking to an abused women shelter or to the police?
10. Got AIDS, cancer or any other disease you might want to keep private?
Imagine the fun should your employer find out you call the AIDS hotline every week, or the women's breast cancer clinic.
My point here is that this is incredibly dangerous, our government has known about it for a good half year or longer, and no one has done a damn thing about it.
11. Are you a woman who ever has, may, or will get an abortion?
Do you want everyone knowing you made a few too many phone calls to the Planned Parenthood clinic?
The list goes on and on and on.
What's most infuriating to me is that our government, both Congress and the executive branch, has known about this since at least last July when the Washington Post story ran, and they didn't do a damn thing about it. Congress could have easily passed legislation to make this illegal. But they didn't. Hell, Bush could have evoked his apparently all-powerful divine right of kings and simply outlaw the damn practice - a much better use of his dictator police-state powers than spying on innocent Americans.
But Bush did nothing. Republicans and Democrats in Congress did nothing. And the FBI and the privacy groups have known about this for a long time, and they did nothing.
This is the kind of issue that you could get fixed on Capitol Hill IN ONE DAY. But that would require someone who actually understands politics, who understands how to get things accomplished, and who gives a damn. It also takes someone who isn't in the pocket of the telecommunications industry, the telemarketers, and the direct marketing lobbyists.
And finally, let's not forget the biggest criminals of all in this affair. The phone companies. There is no way that these online services are outright stealing this information, if they're able to get in just a few hours consistently. They've got access to the info, and from the reading I've done it seems the cell and land-line companies are selling our info for profit. So, the biggest slap in the face should be to any phone company out there who has ever sold one big of information about you to anyone else. Not only is it unethical, but they just might have helped Al Qaeda. Congrats.
So, anybody got Bill Frist's or Harry Reid's phone numbers? Or maybe the phone number of the FBI tip line?