RealTime IT News

Phone Data Privacy Bill Heats Up in Senate

Momentum for a telephone data privacy bill began building in the U.S. Senate Wednesday, with Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) introducing legislation to outlaw the acquiring, selling or soliciting of someone else's phone records without their express consent.

Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is co-sponsoring the bill, and the Alaskan Republican promised a hearing on the legislation next week.

Two U.S. House committees have already passed similar legislation.

"I think it's truly reprehensible that unscrupulous marketers have been obtaining and selling the confidential, personal phone billing records of Americans," Allen said in a statement.

"This legislation will protect innocent people and ensure that the perpetrators of this fraudulent and criminal activity are prosecuted. We must not allow this deceitful and disturbing practice to continue."

In addition to banning the buying and selling of confidential phone data, the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act specifically outlaws the fraudulent misrepresentation that a person has given authorization to obtain their phone records, often referred to as "pretexting."

The bill also increases the penalties for pretexting for phone data and provides the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general with strengthened enforcement authority.

To further boost enforcement, the legislation allows phone companies to take legal action against data brokers or others who are illegally acquiring phone records.

"Given the growing problem of pretexting, it is time for Congress to act to protect consumers," Stevens said. "This bill empowers the FTC and FCC to punish those who lie to obtain private phone records."

The bill also targets the telecoms entrusted with protecting consumer data by requiring they annually certify they are in compliance with confidentiality procedures. Telecoms not in compliance could face up to a $30,000 fine for violations.

Since last summer, the FCC, FTC and Congress have been scrambling to meet the challenge of online black market sites selling confidential phone data. The telecoms and independent experts claim the data is being obtained through pretexting.

Federal law prohibits pretexting for financial information but does not specifically ban the practice when it comes to phone records.

"Unfortunately, there are some marketers who have no respect for people's privacy and no respect for the rules," Missouri Republican Jim Talent, another co-sponsor of the bill, said.

"Our legislation will protect consumers and punish criminals seeking to profit from phone record theft."