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Internet Workaround Bypasses Caller ID

How much do you think it would cost for a group of software engineers to overturn the advantage of having Caller ID to protect your privacy? Try just 65 lines of computer code and $3,000.

Star38 is a new computerized service enabling businesses to create false outbound phone numbers with a click of a mouse, so they can sidestep Caller ID. Introduced yesterday, the service is the first commercial version of a technology known mainly among software programmers and the computer-hacker underground.

For $19.99 a month and as little as 7 cents a minute, customers can go to the company's Web site, log in, then type the number that they want to call and the number that they want to appear on the caller ID screen of the recipient's phone. For an additional fee, users can also specify names that can appear along with their telephone numbers.

But you know who the primary customers of this service will be, at least initially: police departments, private detectives and, of course, bill collectors. Down the road, I suspect telemarketers will join the fray, but that's not what worries me.

Some privacy-rights advocates and consumer groups wonder whether angry former spouses, stalkers or fraud artists might not be far behind.

Star38 says it has no immediate plans to sell its service to ordinary consumers because of the potential for misuse. 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.

The legal and ethical boundaries of the service are rather blurry too. An FCC official said the agency's rules require only that telephone companies provide caller ID abilities and the ability to block it. The rules do not cover add-on services like Star38 provided by nontelephone companies.

The Lakeland Ledger September 2, 2004

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