One of the nation's top political bloggers purchased the cell phone records of former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark on Thursday to demonstrate the growing privacy concerns highlighted in a Chicago Sun-Times story last week.
John Aravosis, publisher of AMERICAblog.com, said he bought Clark's records for $89.95 from celltolls.com. Aravosis said he obtained a list of 100 calls made on Clark's cell phone over three days in November -- no questions asked.
Wouldn't it be interesting to know who [Sun-Times columnist] Bob Novak was calling in the month that [CIA agent] Valerie Plame's name came out? How about [U.S. Attorney] Patrick Fitzgerald's phone calls?
John Aravosis, publisher of AMERICAblog.com
Aravosis, whose liberal blog is critical of the Bush administration, said he called Clark's cell phone Thursday to make sure the former NATO supreme commander was informed Aravosis bought his records. Aravosis did not publish the numbers on his blog.
"I am not doing this to be mean, I am doing this to help people," Aravosis said. "I supported [Clark's] campaign when he was running in the beginning.
"This shows nobody's records are untouchable. . . . Wouldn't it be interesting to know who [Sun-Times columnist] Bob Novak was calling in the month that [CIA agent] Valerie Plame's name came out? How about [U.S. Attorney] Patrick Fitzgerald's phone calls?"
Clark said legal remedies are needed to stop companies from selling telephone records.
"When I learned today that my phone records were purchased for less than a hundred dollars I joined millions of Americans who worry about the invasion of their privacy that seems to be the growing price of technology," Clark said. "People should be able to trust that their privacy is being respected and protected by everyone from the government to our internet and mobile phone service providers. Clearly, this is not the case."
Clark urged consumers to contact their senators to urge passage of a law to order the Federal Trade Commission to "restore integrity to the system and give people back a reasonable degree of privacy."
Lawmakers take notice
The newspaper reported last week that dozens of Internet services are selling records of calls made on cell phones and land-based phones. The Sun-Times paid $110 to one such service, locatecell.com, to test the service and obtained a list of 78 calls this reporter made to relatives, law enforcement sources and fellow Sun-Times staffers.
Gov. Blagojevich has responded to the story by proposing laws banning sale of such phone records and tighten phone companies' control of the sensitive information.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is widening the list of Web-based phone record brokers she is subpoenaing to determine if the phone numbers are being obtained illegally from phone companies, her spokeswoman, Melissa Merz, said Thursday.
Last week's story revealed concerns at the FBI and the Chicago Police Department that officers' cell phone records could be obtained by criminals.
Also Thursday, MoveOn.org Civic Action, the 3.3-million-member activist group, launched an Internet petition calling on Congress to prohibit unauthorized sales of lists of calls made on cell phones. The petition was sent to 110,000 MoveOn members at 1:22 p.m. Central Time, and in the first four hours, more than 16,600 people signed it.
In Illinois alone, more than 1,800 people signed it during that period.
'It has to stop'
"Even at a time when privacy rights are under attack on multiple fronts, the idea that someone can go online and buy your phone records seems unbelievable," said Adam Green, a spokesman for MoveOn.org Civic Action. "But it is happening and it has to stop."
Because of the Sun-Times story, California and New York are considering legislation to combat a possible loophole in privacy laws. Federal laws require phone firms to protect customers' personal information, but they do not specifically outlaw the unauthorized acquisition of such information, experts say.
Copyright © The Sun-Times Company