A debate is under way on whether U.S. president-elect Barack Obama should be able to keep his BlackBerry when he assumes office. ((Morry Gash/Associated Press))

U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's cellphone records have been accessed by unauthorized persons, according to wireless provider Verizon.

"This week we learned that a number of Verizon Wireless employees have, without authorization, accessed and viewed president-elect Barack Obama’s personal cellphone account," the company's chief executive officer, Lowell McAdam, said in an apologetic statement late Thursday.

"The account has been inactive for several months. The device on the account was a simple voice flip-phone, not a BlackBerry or other smartphone designed for e-mail or other data services."

McAdam said all employees who accessed the account, whether they did so with or without authorization, have been put on immediate leave with pay.

"As the circumstances of each individual employee’s access to the account are determined, the company will take appropriate actions," he said. "Employees with legitimate business needs for access will be returned to their positions, while employees who have accessed the account improperly and without legitimate business justification will face appropriate disciplinary action."

The notice of the breach comes in the midst of a debate over whether Obama should be allowed to keep his BlackBerry when he assumes office on Jan. 20.

Some pundits have argued that the president should be not allowed to use a BlackBerry because the sensitive information on it could be stolen or intercepted. Others have argued that any information that passes through the device could be forcibly divulged under the Presidential Records Act, which requires that all presidential correspondence be put into an official record.

Proponents of Obama keeping his BlackBerry have argued that the device will help him stay more in touch with the outside world than his predecessors were.