Investigating data brokers

Janet Babin Jun 20, 2006


TESS VIGELAND: We’re all well aware these days that the government thinks it’s perfectly fine to tap our phones without a warrant. And the CIA, well they have their ways. At the local level, though, not as many resources. Who you gonna call? 1-800-investigate-me.

Turns out law enforcement agencies are turning to data brokers in the private sector if they need phone records fast. But these data companies could be using tactics that break the law. Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports Congress is looking into it.

JANET BABIN: According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department, the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and some local police departments have used private brokers to get information out of a suspect’s phone records.

But how these firms get the data is under scrutiny.

Peter Swire is a law professor at the Ohio State University. He says under federal law, the government has to use legal means to get people’s phone records. But Swire says it appears that the data centers fraudulently obtain personal information and then hand it over to police.

PETER SWIRE: “And that deserves congressional scrutiny. And it very possibly deserves to be clear that it’s illegal for the data services to use fraud to get people’s phone records.”

Congressional investigators say the government spent at least $30 million last year to buy personal data from these brokers.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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