RealTime IT News

Bills Target ID Theft Ease

U.S. Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have a simple solution to put a stop to identity theft: ban phone companies from selling personal information, bar Internet sites from selling the records and prohibit the sale or display of Social Security numbers without an individual's consent.

In the first week of the 110th Congress, Stevens and Feinstein rolled out legislation to accomplish just that.

Stevens introduced the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, which would require telephone companies to have a customer's written consent before selling personal information to others. The proposed law would apply to wireline, wireless and VoIP carriers.

Some telephone companies sell customers' personal information to marketers, requiring individuals to opt out of the arrangement. Under Stevens' bill, all telephone companies would be banned from selling the information except under narrow exemptions.

A Stevens spokesman said the bill would effectively eliminate the Internet cottage industry of selling personal phone records since the very act of selling the information would be illegal. The bill also increases penalties for pretexters who attempt to dupe telephone companies into revealing personal information about a customer.

Feinstein's Social Security Number Misuse Prevention Act would not only bar the sale or display Social Security numbers without an owner's consent, but also prohibit federal, state and local government agencies from displaying Social Security numbers on public records posted on the Internet.

The bill would also prevent government agencies from displaying Social Security numbers in information issued to the general public on CD-ROMs or other electronic media and prohibit the government from printing them on government checks.

According to a Feinstein spokesman, the legislation would also impose some limitations when a business can ask a customer for a Social Security number. In addition, the bill would prevent the employment of inmates for tasks that would give them access to the Social Security numbers of others.

Violations of the proposed law would include both criminal and civil penalties.

"If a person's Social Security number is compromised, the path to identity theft is a short one," Feinstein said in a statement. "Thieves can obtain Social Security numbers through public records -- marriage licenses, professional licenses, and countless other public documents -- many of which are available online."

"We must ensure that government agencies and businesses take responsibility and protect Americans' Social Security numbers."