Till a couple of weeks ago, British phone users could dial British Telecom’s “192” directory inquiry service and be given the number of any named telephone subscriber for whom they had an address. “192” has been scrapped in favour of a bunch of over 40 competing directory inquiry services, each using a six-figure number commencing with the digits “118”. Some of these new services have been accused of operating a "stalkers' charter" by providing phone numbers for addresses to callers who don’t know the resident's name. In one case a female jogger was called at home by a stranger who had apparently followed her to her door and discovered her phone number using one of the new 118 inquiry lines. There are also concerns that the provision of telephone numbers purely on the basis of an address could be used by burglars to test whether a property is empty. The Office of the Information Commissioner, who is responsible for data protection, has received complaints about the way that numbers are being given out but says that no rules have been broken. Apparently the new 118 operators can decide for themselves whether to give phone numbers out to speculative callers. Even if the 118 operators demand names before giving out numbers, that’s not much protection against stalkers: all they have to do is consult the electoral register, a publicly available document which matches up names and addresses for everyone who is entitled to vote.

The IPKat says: “Personal privacy is a value which the law rightly protects. But name-and-address type information is so readily available to anyone who wants it that it is not feasible for the law to restrict all access to it. The best practical way to stop someone getting your phone number is to scrap your land line, use a mobile and be careful who you give your number to. But it shouldn’t be necessary to resort to this measure. Phone subscribers can opt to go ex-directory. In the meantime the prudent caution of 118 operators is welcomed”.

Electronic Privacy Information Center here
Privacy International here
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse here
Find telephone numbers here and here
Homepage for stalkers here
What the well-dressed stalker is wearing here

CHEAP PHONE NUMBER INQUIRIES -- OR A STALKERS' CHARTER? <strong>CHEAP PHONE NUMBER INQUIRIES  --  OR A STALKERS' CHARTER?</strong> Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, September 08, 2003 Rating: 5

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