18 January 2006

Police fear US website could 'out' informers


(Sharon O'Neill, Irish News)

Police are to target a website which offers access to mobile telephone records amid fears that it may be used as a tool to unmask agents.

The Irish News understands that senior PSNI officers have been alerted to the potential danger of the service.

North American authorities flagged up the website to police this side of the Atlantic in recent weeks.

In the aftermath of former Sinn Féin official Denis Donaldson's spying admission, police in the north fear that other informers could be exposed by republicans or loyalists using the website to trace calls to their handlers.

The potential privacy threat could also have implications for the wider public.

The website has created a huge storm in the US and Canada after a US government official and an FBI agent's calls were traced.

For as little as $110 (£62) and with results within hours, clients can find out up to 100 calls made from any mobile, including unlisted numbers, "guaranteed to be accurate and current".

Names and addresses of those called, including including those with numbers outside Canada and the US, can also be obtained for $250 (£141), with a maximum wait of just two days.

With the internet proving notoriously difficult to police the fact that US authorities have alerted the international community shows how serious the potential risk is being treated.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the legality of the controversial website, linked to a Florida-based company, and the US is under growing pressure to tighten legislation in light of the apparent breach.

Canada has much stricter laws but it did not stop a detailed list being obtained via the same website of the phone calls made by the country's federal privacy commissioner.

In Northern Ireland there is a mechanism in place to prevent the access of mobile telephone records without the customer's knowledge.

However, the website under scrutiny has faced accusations of deception, fraud and hacking into systems to obtain information.

An FBI spokesman told The Irish News last night (Sunday): "We are curious because we are not clear as to how this website got these phone records from the cellphone companies.

"It is really more of a controversy in terms of people's perception of a right to privacy. It is disturbing to a lot of people.

"Most people think their telephone records are private. I think it is something that people in general, not just law enforcement people should be concerned about, no matter where they live."

The Irish News attempted to contact the website via email and phone but there was no response.

January 17, 2006

This article appeared first in the January 16, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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