Yes, even you, Mr. President

Tony Poulos, TM Forum
15 Jan 2009

Recent news that self-confessed BlackBerry addict, US President-elect Barack Obama, would have to give up his personal email device in his new role made headlines. In fact, US presidents are discouraged from using email at all. It seems the President's email can be subpoenaed by Congress and courts and may be subject to public records laws, so if a President doesn't want his email public, he shouldn't email. In fact, there are security issues about carrying around any trackable mobile device - location-based service potentially being the most dangerous. So it appears that America's most technology-savvy President is being thwarted in using the tools that helped him so admirably in his campaign.

What should be of greater concern to our industry, and the billing sector in particular, was the other headline that Obama's personal mobile phone account had been "Ëœaccessed and viewed' by "Ëœunauthorized' employees of his service provider, Verizon Wireless. The account, which had not been active for several months, was a simple voice flip-phone, not a BlackBerry or other smartphone designed for email and other data services, the company said. So what‾ Well, the fact remained that staff of a major network operator, "Ëœunauthorized' at that, had access to the call records of a customer and could have used them for malevolent activities, even putting the customer and his contacts at risk.

We all know that customer records are constantly being requested, even subpoenaed, by law enforcement agencies worldwide and that service providers are required by law to provide them. The demands are so great in some countries that larger service providers have to employ many staff to provide this service, and that means lots of opportunities for personal records to be accessed. We assume that these records are never compromised, but it seems we may be overlooking a potential minefield of litigation and customer discontent if billing records, especially call details, become public.

I can recall working in one service provider where billing staff were often approached by private investigators trying to get customer call records to investigate and prove disloyal behavior for divorce proceedings. In another case, an employee was tipped off after a request for his call records and identity was received from the national drug enforcement agency.And although these activities are illegal and discouraged, they pale in significance when compared to the potential consequences to national security of the Obama leaks.

Service providers should not assume for one moment that this "Ëœslip-up' at Verizon will not go unnoticed by regulators and authorities. We should probably all review our internal processes now and put in place controls to demonstrate that something is being done before either the law steps in or we are subjected to unwelcome legal proceedings from other disgruntled customers.

Tony Poulos is revenue management sector head at TM Forum

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