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The no-questions-asked sale of phone call records by US data brokers has prompted a huge security flap. The disreputable practice forced the Chicago Police Department to warn officers that their call records might be easily obtainable - potentially exposing the identities of police informants to criminals. Privacy advocates are also alarmed at the effects access to call records through online sources might have on civil liberties.

US Senator Charles Schumer is calling for laws to specifically criminalize phone record theft. He hopes the laws will be put in place while state officials in Illinois consider legislation to ban the sales of people's call records. All well and good, but what about putting more pressure on phone companies to keep records more secure?

Dozens of data brokers in the US make a business from selling call records - sometimes obtained from phone company insiders or by deception - for about $100 per account per month. The chief market is private investigators, but an investigation by the Chicago Sun Times suggests the information is available to anyone who's prepared to pay. Little or no checks are applied over the identity of the person requesting information.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over these practices. It has also submitted a petition to the regulator asking it to act to make sure phone companies improve their security safeguards. Meanwhile, consumers are advised to ask their phone companies to install a password on their individual accounts in a bid to block unauthorised access. ®

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