Maine set to ban sale of cell phone records

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AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Legislature is poised to make Maine the latest state to ban the sale of personal cell phone records.

Both the House and Senate voted in favor of the proposal on Friday, and Gov. John Baldacci is expected to sign the bill if it lands on his desk, according to state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara, who has testified in support of the bill.

The bill sponsored by Rep. John Brautigam, D-Famouth, would make it a crime and a civil violation to sell cell phone records. The state is also trying to crack down on Internet sites that obtain cell phone records illegally and offer them for sale.

Experts say brokers get the records by posing as customers, hacking into wireless-company records or buying records from unscrupulous employees.

The crackdown on cell phone records is uniting wireless providers, privacy advocates, consumer advocates and civil libertarians.

“The right to be left alone is one of our most fundamental rights,” said Shenna Bellows of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Selling land-line phone records already is a crime. Like existing laws, the cell phone proposal has exceptions for records needed to comply with a subpoena or warrant.

The original bill would have made it a felony to sell cell-phone records, but it was reduced to a misdemeanor punishable by as much as a year in jail and $2,000 in fines.

Selling such data also would violate the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act, which could carry separate penalties of as much as $10,000 per violation.

Cantara said the prospect of someone obtaining personal cell phone records is not hypothetical. Someone purchased an undercover police officer’s cell phone records, blowing his cover and jeopardizing his safety, he said.

At least 27 states are considering bills this year to crack down on the unauthorized disclosure of phone records, including the publication of cell-phone numbers in directories without the consent of phone users, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last year, Georgia and New York passed laws requiring customer approval before cell-phone numbers can be listed in a directory.

This year, the state of Washington banned the unauthorized sale of phone numbers. Pam Greenberg of the NCSL said similar bills have been passed, but not yet signed into law, in Virginia and Wisconsin.

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