September 02, 2004

Controversial New Caller ID Spoofing Service

Here we go again. When Caller ID was first introduced, it raised numerous privacy issues. Now, just as we're finally comfortable with it, along comes new technology to disturb the status quo. According to the New York Times (free registration required), a new company called Star38 (or *38) is offering a new service which enables debt collectors, law enforcement officials, and private investigators to spoof, or fake, their Caller ID information when they call you.

The service is cheap and easy to use, and the callers can set the Caller ID telephone number and name to whatever they want. The NY Times article discusses the legal concerns involved, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Engadget, one of my favorite tech blogs, recently had an interview with Star38's CEO and included photos of the service in action. Star38's sparse information is found here.

The following from the Times article is an eye opener:

"The developers of Star38, who say they required only 65 lines of computer code and $3,000 to create their service, insist that they will take steps to ensure that it is not used maliciously. They plan to spend up to 10 days checking the business licenses of all applicants and will ask subscribers to agree not to use Star38 to commit fraud, and to accept legal liability if they violate state or federal laws."
It will be interesting to see how effective asking subscribers not to commit fraud will be. It doesn't give me any warm fuzzies. It certainly wasn't good enough for the RIAA in the 321 Studios lawsuit, wherein the controversial DVD X Copy software asked its users whether the DVD being copied was borrowed or rented. Granted, that was primarily a DMCA suit, but you get my point.

Initially, the service will only be offered to the above types of customers following some type of background check, but not the general public. On this point, per the Times article:

"The company also plans to cooperate with police forces, if asked, to provide records of what numbers customers dialed to and from, and what numbers they chose to show the recipients of their calls.

"Law enforcement will have complete access to search our database," said Jason Jepson, the chief executive of Star38, of Newport Beach, Calif. "We don't want the insinuation that they can sign up, use it temporarily and then run off."

Mr. Jepson, 30 - who says he got the idea for his service after speaking to his aunt, a bounty hunter, about the best ways to get in touch with people - said Star38 had no immediate plans to sell its service to ordinary consumers because of the potential for misuse. "There are too many things that can go wrong," Mr. Jepson said.

But industry experts say that the caller ID spoofing, as it is known, is simple enough to develop that it is only a matter of time before other service providers make it available to anyone."

In the immortal words of George Carlin: That's what scares me.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard