Opening Statements

There's an App for That, Too

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Tricking people into thinking you’re someone else? There’s an app for that.

With names like SpoofCard, SpoofApp and Spoofem, there are a growing number of “spoofing” technologies that let people alter their caller IDs to mislead recipients about who’s calling them. While mostly legal, spoofing technology—and the growing number of applications for smartphones—has created a backlash.

Earlier this year the U.S. Senate passed legislation (S.30: Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009) to ban spoofing, and in February the bill was sent to the House.

“We’re talking about very small shifts in information control relative to other issues like spam, viruses, malware,” says Lee Tien, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “The emergence of caller ID shifted knowledge from the caller to the called. Spoofing shifts expectations back. We’re bouncing between who gets to know. But it’s always possible to mask who is calling—like using a payphone.”

Legitimate spoofers include physicians who don’t want patients knowing their cell numbers or independent contractors putting a company’s name on caller ID. Telemarketing organizations that don’t want to be traced use spoofing, as do private investigators digging for information. But spoofing can also be used to break into someone’s voice mail because systems recognize the owner’s number and don’t require a password

Mark Del Bianco of Kensington, Md., who represents SpoofCard, says lawmakers are considering two approaches: banning spoofing outright—which several states, including Florida, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have done—and a “more measured approach that acknowledges spoofing can be good or bad.”

Del Bianco thinks any anti-spoofing legislation would be unnecessary and unenforceable. “Using caller ID for fraud, crime or identity theft is already illegal,” he says.

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