February 07, 2006

Action On Phone Privacy

An email sent from Rep. Jay Inslee's office (D WA-8) titled "Protecting Consumers' Phone Records":

Recent reports revealed a loophole in the law that allows numerous online companies to obtain and sell the telephone records of nearly any American. I would like to take this opportunity to give you a quick update on this issue and my efforts to close the loophole.

Detailed call records, now sold for as little as $100, can be of great use to criminals because they encompass a wealth of personal information, including calls made to doctors, family members, business associates, and more. Not only does piracy of these records help fraud artists to steal identities, but stalkers, organized crime, and abusive spouses can purchase this information to find and hurt their victims. One serious threat is posed by criminals who could use such services to get phone records of undercover police officers, putting their true identity and safety at risk.

Last week, I teamed up with U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to take the lead and tackle this growing problem by introducing the bi-partisan Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006, H.R. 4662. Current law contains criminal penalties for obtaining another person's financial records by impersonating an account holder, an act known as "pretexting." However, similar penalties do not exist for telephone records. The Inslee-Blackburn proposal closes this loophole in federal law and bans pretexting for phone records. Under H.R. 4662, pretexting to obtain phone records would be considered a federal crime punishable by up to $500,000 dollars in fines and 10 years in prison. The bill also requires phone companies to notify consumers if their phone records are breached.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to address this dangerous problem, and my colleagues committed to moving legislation as fast as possible. Many of the provisions in my legislation were lauded and supported by expert witnesses and federal agencies.

The legislation has been endorsed by King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. A letter she sent stated, "In my view, enactment of your legislation during this session of Congress is imperative. It will go a long way toward protecting millions of consumers from the theft and use of their private phone numbers, and especially, toward ensuring the effectiveness and security of law enforcement operations, missions, and personnel without compromise."

I recognize the importance of this issue and I strongly believe that Congress needs to act with dispatch to get this job done. The breach of phone records not only compromises privacy, but it also puts public safety at risk.

At this point, the bill has over 20 cosponsors. When the committee moves forward to vote on phone record privacy legislation, possibly this week, I expect it will include parts, if not all, of the Inslee-Blackburn proposal. I assure you that I will continue to work with my colleagues on the House commerce panel to make sure that phone records, along with Social Security numbers, financial records and other sensitive consumer information, are kept private.

Jay Inslee, everybody. A cool cat of a congresscritter if ever there was one.

Posted by natasha at February 7, 2006 12:58 AM | Civil Liberties | Technorati links |

I agree about Inslee. Too bad he doesn't represent the 8th District as you indicate, but the 1st. The 8th is stuck with David Reichert, the DeLay echo.

Posted by: Daniel K at February 7, 2006 08:03 AM

God willing, DK, not for long - not for long.

Posted by: palamedes at February 8, 2006 08:10 PM

We have a bill in the State Senate to prohibit the sale of cell phone records. I believe it is SB 6776, sponsored by Senator Bill Finkbeiner and co-sponsored by a few others, including Democrats. The bill is either in Senate Rules or is out of Rules and ready to be scheduled for a floor vote.

Posted by: Ken Camp at February 9, 2006 06:14 AM