Cell Phone Privacy: Keeping it to yourself

Privacy has become the topic of a great deal of news coverage and focus by the federal government in recent years. Financial institutions, health care providers, and many other organizations have been forced to deal with concerns about assuring the safety of personal information that they collect and maintain about the individuals who access their goods and services. Without safeguards, information can be shared with third parties, sold, or stolen. In other instances, individuals sometimes fail to take precautions to safeguard their own private/personal information. Privacy issues related to cell phone use have been the subject of some attention in recent years as well. Concerns have ranged from strangers listening in to conversations, to hackers gaining access to confidential information stored in cell phones, and imposters stealing phone records.

Listening into cell phone conversations is increasingly difficult. Older analog phones can be monitored fairly easily using scanning radios or other cell phones. Land lines are easily tapped into as well. However digital cell phones make this much more difficult and it isn't performed by amateurs although it becomes easier if a call from a digital phone is received by an older analog phone or land line. Currently, using a GMS/PCS phone, the type with a smart chip, is the safest bet. Of course, users also need to remember to use discretion when talking on their cell phone by stepping into a private area when holding conversations as listening in doesn't always require high tech equipment.

A newer concern is abuse of the Global Positioning System (GPS) chips that are now embedded into handsets to allow location-tracking of callers for the purposes of allowing E-911 to find them in emergencies. By tracking and storing location information, it is feared that privacy will be vulnerable to those who would profile callers. Some experts suggest that users should become familiar with the privacy policies as to how their wireless provider captures and stores data related to customer and location information; ideally the provider would not store location data at all.

Since its inception there have been some concerns about phones with Bluetooth capabilities. The very wireless features that make it so useful make it vulnerable to being breached. Experts have reported that a person nearby with a laptop can potentially steal data from cell phones, eavesdrop, or use the phone to call other numbers without the user's knowledge or consent. Information such as address books, call records, photos, and text messages are all vulnerable. Some suggested safeguards include the use of strong passwords, avoidance of storing sensitive information on cell phones, and turning off the Bluetooth function when not in use.

During the past year, there has been a lot of press about the availability of cell phone records related to incoming and outgoing calls. Wireless providers have indicated that records have been obtained on occasion through fraud where individuals posed as a customer to obtain the information. The FCC has investigated organizations/websites that appear to sell such information on line. Wireless providers are also trying to implement internal policies to eliminate misuse by insiders such as employees, partners, and contractors who have access to such private information. Stealing financial records is illegal but it seems that no specific bills have passed in the house or senate regarding other general calling records. It will be up to the wireless providers to continue to put into place security policies and for the FCC to track down more unscrupulous organizations that sell such information. For now, the general public probably just needs to be aware that this information is discoverable for cell phones just as it is for land lines and to communicate with their representatives about their concerns.

About the author: Christine Peppler shares information on home electronics products, including cell phones, and home entertainment on her website at: http://www.homemedias.info.



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