Obama’s Cellphone Account Breached by Verizon Employees

By AMOL SHARMA, Wall Street Journal |

Verizon Wireless disclosed late Thursday that several of its employees accessed and viewed President-elect Barack Obama’s personal cellphone account, and said it planned to discipline workers for the privacy breach.

“We apologize to President-Elect Obama and will work to keep the trust our customers place in us every day,” the company’s chief executive, Lowell McAdam, said in a statement.

Verizon said it discovered the unauthorized account access this week and said it related to an account that has been inactive “for several months.” The device on the account was a standard feature phone, rather than a smartphone with advanced email and data capabilities.

The company said it has put all employees with access to the account on leave, with pay, as it sorts out which of those workers accessed the account without a justifiable business purpose. Those who did not have a good reason to view the account will be punished, the company said.

Verizon Wireless, the nation’s No. 2 wireless carrier by subscribers, is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC. The company is headquartered in Basking Ridge, N.J. and has 71,000 employees nationwide.

Cellphone companies have had other challenges protecting customer records in recent years. They have had to contend, for example, with third-party data brokers who illegally obtain customer records — sometimes by posing as employees of the cellphone company — and then sell them. They are sensitive to such privacy breaches, mindful that their subscribers could easily switch to rivals if they feel their personal information isn’t secure.