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Obama's Mobile Phone Records Compromised, Shared 278

Posted by kdawson
from the quis-custodiet-ipsos-custodes dept.
Tiger4 writes "Verizon has confirmed that some of its employees have accessed and perhaps shared calling records of President Elect Barack Obama (coverage at CNN, Reuters, AP). Verizon says the people involved have all been put on leave with pay as the investigation proceeds. Some of the employees may have accessed the information for legitimate purposes, but others may have been curiosity seekers and may have even shared the information around. The account was 'only' a phone, not a BlackBerry or similar device, and Verizon believes it was just calling records, not voicemail or email that was compromised. The articles do not mention the similarity to the warrantless wiretapping or hospital records compromises of recent months. But that immediately sprang to mind for me."
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Obama's Mobile Phone Records Compromised, Shared

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  • Thats OK. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by number17 (952777) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:02AM (#25844767)
    Oversight is OK though right? He has nothing to hide.

    If he stops the NSA from spying on domestics then I'll take back my comment.
    • by tritonman (998572) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:07AM (#25844823)
      This is something new, the citizens wiretapping and spying on the president. I guess we truly will see change with Obama.
      • Re:Thats OK. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ionix5891 (1228718) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:14AM (#25844919)

        never mind Obama, the people need to see Bush's call records, now that be interesting

    • Re:Thats OK. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Panzor (1372841) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:14AM (#25844907)
      I have nothing to hide, but my conversations are my business. This is why I encrypt all my volumes and use OTR...
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Any sufficiently lost encryption key is indistinguishable from a one-time-pad

      • Re:Thats OK. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sorak (246725) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:54PM (#25847199)

        Or to put it another way...

        If you weren't buying illegal drugs, you would trust me with complete access to all your credit card information, right?

    • Transparency (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xzvf (924443) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:24AM (#25845067)
      Actually you are strangely correct. We should have transcripts of every conversation with lobbyist, campaign contributors, and business relationships. A lack of vision into our corporate and political deal making has lead to many of the abuses over the last decade. If every non-personal conversation by corporate executives and government employees was recorded and made available to the public corruption and graft will be driven further underground.
      • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kugala (1083127) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:25AM (#25845087)
        You're going to trust people that are buying and selling laws to record their conversations?
        • by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:23AM (#25845889) Journal

          You're going to trust people that are buying and selling laws to record their conversations?

          Of course not. That's why we should get a law passed to make it mandatory. It'll be tough to pass, but I know a couple palms we could grease (off the record, of course)

          • by Anpheus (908711)

            As much as I would like something such as that to happen, I think there are other ways to solve the problem that don't involve perverting the American ideal and putting our elected officials into hell.

            Imagine being an elected official. You wouldn't be able to call your wife, your kids without it being recorded. Would you even be allowed to speak to them privately in your home? Would you be able to have a private discussion with their teacher? Would we grant them an exception for doctor patient confidentiali

      • Underground- or... the RIAA will start calling their favorite congress critter with "honey, there's a problem with Bobby at school..."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kellyb9 (954229)
        I agree... strangely. As an employee of a company, my conversations are on their systems, using their resources, so I would have to assume that they own those conversations. If the CEO of our company wanted to pull my records, I would have to believe he was well within his legal rights. As such, we, the people, should be like the CEO of this country. They are using resources that we payed for, and they work for us. So, as such, it's time to hand over those records... and pay us millions of dollars a year.
        • I agree but there's also the "matter of national security" paradox that there are no easy fixes for. I do think that the public has every right to know what their government is doing. Yet how do you prevent your enemies from accessing sensitive information that could compromise security while also letting the public know everything and not use "it's classified" as an excuse to pull the blinds over the public ?

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          "I agree... strangely. As an employee of a company, my conversations are on their systems, using their resources, so I would have to assume that they own those conversations. If the CEO of our company wanted to pull my records, I would have to believe he was well within his legal rights."

          Actually, no...the phone is still fairly protected even in the work place. Unlike with email and the like which they can freely look at....they run into the wiretapping laws if they try to listen in on your phone conversa

      • by Dr. Tom (23206)
        So if the politicians want to protect their privacy, they have to protect ours, too, by anonymizing those records. Neat. Or we could just trust telco employees. One of them has to have the passphrase anyway.
    • by hey! (33014)

      The problem isn't domestic spying. It's unaccountable domestic spying. The government has a legitimate reasons for eavesdropping on some conversations. However, the problem with the program is that the executive branch has structured the program so it answers to nobody for what it does. There is no way to limit the government's use of its eavesdropping capabilities, and given the behavior of the administration in situations we know about, we can probably assume it hasn't stuck to its legitimate limits

  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:03AM (#25844781)
    Some of the employees may have accessed the information for legitimate purposes

    Like what?

    I doubt if Obama has any problem paying his phone bill.
    • by chill (34294) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:09AM (#25844851) Journal

      Reverse traces.

      They were probably investigating a complaint from the Governor's residence in Alaska. All those mysterious calls that would just be insane, taunting laughter, then a hang-up.

      Probably just a wrong number, but still, you can never be too sure.

    • Like what?

      Maby he started getting calls from all those people who shared his number and he called Verizon to complain. Accessing the call records at that point may have been legitimate by those initiating the investigation.

    • by jonadab (583620) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:42AM (#25845313) Homepage Journal
      > > Some of the employees may have accessed the information for legitimate purposes
      > Like what?

      Well, that's presumably why they're investigating.

      There can be various technical reasons why a support tech or engineer or sysadmin or whoever looks at data that most people would think of as personal, but the engineer isn't seeing what other people are seeing. He's seeing technical stuff other people would never notice. I don't know a lot about phones, because I don't really support those, so I'll use email as an example instead. As a tech guy, I have on a number of occasions had reasons to look at a coworker's email (albeit, usually with their knowledge in my case), but if you'd asked me thirty seconds later who they'd received messages from or what they were about, I'd have had no idea. Maybe I was looking at whether messages were being retrieved from the server all the time in the background, or only when the inbox was open. Maybe I was looking at whether their outgoing messages were getting correct date headers and Message-IDs. Maybe I was sending a test message to myself to see how fast it went through, and the reply back. I'm sure there were other things, and I'm sure I don't remember every occasion, because it's not weird or unusual; it's a normal part of my job duties.

      If I *wanted* to surreptitiously read the actual content of my coworkers' email, I would certainly be technically capable of doing that, and could be fairly confident of not being detected. But in the first place that wouldn't be ethical, and in the second place very little is of less interest to me than the content of my coworkers' email messages.

      I am not saying the people who looked at Obama's calling records were doing so for legitimate reasons. I'm only saying that it's *plausible*, and the phone company is right to investigate _before_ taking any irrevocable action.

      Incidentally, some people may be thinking that paid leave is letting them off easy, but having been through a situation where my employer had someone on paid leave for a while, I can say that in some instances the reason for doing this is because it allows the employer to place some kinds of restrictions on the employee that they wouldn't be able to place on them if they weren't being paid. I don't know for certain that this is the phone company's reason in this case, but it potentially could be. (It could also be they just don't want to penalize them until they investigate and determine for sure whether they did anything wrong. That could also be valid, from a cover-your-legal-self-in-case-of-lawsuits perspective if nothing else.)
    • by eison (56778)

      Maybe he had someone call about his bill? It's not like cell phone companies are famous for getting bills perfect.
      I'm sure the way this report was done was that somebody simply listed their full audit table, saw it had a bunch of entries in it, and put everyone in the audit table on leave before checking whether they were actually looking into something for the customer.

  • So this means he WILL have to let go of his Blackberry after all. How secure is data passing to a Blackberry, (the server, towers etc..)?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by sakonofie (979872)
      FT CNN article:

      McAdam said the device on the account was a simple voice flip-phone, not a BlackBerry or other smartphone designed for e-mail or other data services, so none of Obama's e-mail could have been accessed.

    • by eean (177028)

      The Blackberry(tm) seems like a lost cause.

      But it seems like the CIA could hook him up with something just like the Blackberry but secure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      So this means he WILL have to let go of his Blackberry after all

      I'm pretty sure he'll have to get rid of it.

      Let's face it -- POTUS has a whole fleet of people who make sure he's got secure and reliable comms, and a group of people to get him to his next appointment on time.

      I just can't see it being practicable to have Obama running around with is own damned blackberry/cellphone.

      If for no other reason, it just seems stunningly bizarre than anyone who travels in a motorcade and has a 747 at his disposal cramm

  • This happens often (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:05AM (#25844801)

    My brother worked at T-Mobile for many years. (since before they were T-Mobile). Most Hollywood stars have their agents get their phones for them. One day, something happened in the payment process, and Val Kilmer came into a store to make a payment on his phone, instead of his agent. Suddenly, his number was getting passed all over the company, and many employees (mostly young girls) actually called the number to talk to him. A ton of people were fired, and Val got a very nice check from T-Mobile.

    • Obama (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mfh (56)

      A ton of people were fired, and Val got a very nice check from T-Mobile.

      What will Obama take for his trouble? I wonder who he's been chatting with. I see here a few dozen calls to a payphone in Ottawa. For years people were suggesting the USA could annex Canada if a big enough crisis occurred. Little did they know that Canada would annex the USA after a major stock market crash.

    • Kilmer who? (Score:5, Funny)

      by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:22AM (#25845023) Journal
      Never heard of him. You talk as though he was some kind of Super Star like Rajnikant.
  • by mapkinase (958129) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:05AM (#25844803) Homepage Journal

    Most of the media (for example, NPR on the radio today) talks about "unauthorized access by employees", while /. entry is about "sharing" (which is more sinister).

    PS. That and unrelated modest and subdued coverage by CNN about yesterday's record Dow-Jones drop remind me of bias in the media.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:08AM (#25844841)

    While this is improper and wrong, I think that if the government is allowed to wiretap us, then the same laws should make it legal (Freedom of Information Act or something like that) for us to wiretap them. In fact, all government employees' and officials' calls should be recorded and made available for everyone's listening pleasure at a youtube-like site. Call it govtube. Because we are not subservient to the government; it is subservient to us. We put those people in office for our benefit, and so it is our collective right to know what they're doing over there.

  • by xzvf (924443) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:14AM (#25844921)
    A situation like this is why there are so many stupid rules at work that make people less productive. Why USB ports are disabled, or you can't have an iPod, websites like gmail are blocked. The biggest danger of electronic crime and compromising of personal information come from people that work at the company. Same as most shoplifting is done by employees of the store. The solution is, ironically stolen from the government. In order to see personal data (classified information) an employee of the company must, not only have rights to see the information, but must also demonstrate a "need to know". That two factor authentication will eliminate many of the abuses by corporate and government employees (Joe the Plumber's info breach by the state) and clearly put the action into criminal field as apposed to looky loo.
    • by u38cg (607297)
      Yes, but in practice that's ridiculously unworkable. Try working in an accounts receivables department for a large consumer utility company. You deal with hundreds of incoming payments a day, frequently without any helpful identification from the sender. People will do things like pay the previous months bill instead of this months, pay their call charges but not their service charges, leave off a charge they disagree with, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. You need to be able to access pretty much eve
    • Funny thing... The problem is often not draconian and overzealous IT, but alas, a small subset of users who abuse the system. Ninety percent of users may use the Internet at work responsibly, but there's that ten percent that will run a second business, browse porn, read slashdot (oh crap). For various reasons, a company may not be able to enforce rules on a subset of the userbase (for HR and technical reasons) so everyone must suffer.

    • by Detritus (11846)
      The IRS handles it with audit trails. If you look up the tax records of some celebrity or politician, you better be able to show that it was work related. They fire people for unauthorized access to tax records.
  • by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:26AM (#25845099)

    Every time a celebrity lands themselves in an ER (especially hospitals not accustomed VIPs) then we can expect several violations of HIPAA by unauthorized hospital staff.

    They just cannot resist no matter how many times they are warned about activity being logged and threats of dismissal upon violation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by e-scetic (1003976)

      Hollywood is the US national religion, more popular even than Christianity. The mere sight of a film star drives the masses to ecstasy, people want to touch them...

      Some religions would hold that at least one commandment is being violated - something about false gods or idols or something

    • Our healthcare organization has all sorts of protections against this.

      The first is obviously education and awareness. We have annual training that talks about what people can and can't do.

      We also have the ability to flag certain patients as "do not announce", which means that clinicians can't even mention folks are in the hospital. Furthermore, records can be marked as limited access, with only a few people being able to see them (this is rarely done, as preventing legitimate access is dangerous).
      • by eison (56778)

        So you think that only certain special people deserve privacy? *Every* patient and *every* cellphone customer should be treated the same, no special lists and extra protections for the important ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:45AM (#25845343)

    Since Obama voted for FISA it's only fair that the people have access to those records too. :)

  • Joe? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:48AM (#25846281) Homepage Journal

    Lets see if they get the same slap on the wrist that government employees got for accessing Joe the Plumber's tax records, DMV records, medical records, and other supposedly private information.

  • by chord.wav (599850) on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:59AM (#25846401) Journal

    "...Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not... fuck with us."

  • When Sarah Palin's personal email was compromised, she was enjoying the customary United States Secret Service protection extended to major candidates for 120 days before the election. As such, the Secret Service were all over the case as well as the FBI, and the fellow responsible was quickly identified and punished.

    What's different about this case? Why is Verizon able to play this whole thing off as some minor internal thing that's no big deal really when Obama is such a high proile target?
  • First, I believe that this whole situation, on multiple levels, is pretty messed up. I think when the Outrage, and Smirking, dies down, that the facts will most likely show that this was the act of a handful of people acting coy. And, for a short while, Obama's phone was our phone. But ignoring this article's implications, I think the tagging for this article should have been, "Warrentless, Wiretap, Felony, Stupid".

  • There has been a lot of talk about "automating" our health care and records as part of a move to Universal health care. This example of employees improperly accessing phone records should be cautionary when we think about automating health care records. We need to have logs of all access to anyone's records. We need to have strong security models and patient notification of any and all access to records. And, we need to change the law so that the media *MUST* reveal the source of any information leaked

  • by tiqui (1024021) on Friday November 21, 2008 @01:25PM (#25847627)

    1. Clinton administration snagging secret FBI background checks on all the nation's leading Republicans.

    2. Democrats illegally recording Newt Gingrich cell phone call and leaking it to the press.

    3. Democrat breaking into Gov Palin's e-mail account and plastering the contents all over the web.

    4. Hoards of Democrats in a bunch of state offices digging into every possible government record looking for dirt on Joe-the-plumber (the average citizen who dared question the messiah)

    5. Both McCain and Obama having their passport records breached

    6. The pregnancy of Palin's under-age daughter and details about her boyfriend being splashed all-over the papers.

    7. Palin's minor daughter's cell phone info being leaked onto the web

    Actually, I though of all the recent breaches by people in both parties, but there seems to be a fixation on Cheney/Bush, and a baseless presumption that Democrats value privacy, on the net that is a bit tiresome and some balance is required. The problem is NOT that the wrong people are in charge or the wrong people are the victims; the problem is that humans are corruptible and too much power in the hands of too few, with too little oversight, will always lead to trouble. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, eventually your people will be the victims and the other people will be the perps. Best that people on both sides hammer-out better rules to protect the privacy of everybody... while still protecting everybody from real harm. Anybody who only notices and gets upset when somebody in his political party is violated is somebody who does not truly care about privacy

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