RealTime IT News

Pretexting Ban a Federal Done Deal

Pretexting for personal telephone information is now a federal offense.

Under legislation signed last Friday by President Bush, the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 targets those who do the pretexting, as well as the Internet sites that sell the telephone records.

Pretexting is the practice of using false pretenses to obtain the telephone records of another person. Although pretexting for financial records has long been a federal offense, telephone records fell into a legal gray area.

The practice gained widespread notoriety last year when Hewlett-Packard revealed it used pretexting to obtain the personal telephone records of board members and the media as part of its efforts to investigate boardroom leaks.

The new law specifically criminalizes making false or fraudulent statements to a telephone service provider or providing false or fraudulent documents to a telephone service provider in an attempt to gain a third party's personal telephone records.

The law also prohibits the sale or transfer of confidential telephone records, including Internet sites that sell the information. Violators are subject to up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000.

The House passed the legislation in April, but a jurisdictional dispute between the Senate Judicial Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee kept the bill on hold until the late hours of the 109th Congress. Ultimately, the Senate passed the House version in mid-December.

In the aftermath of the HP pretexting scandal, former Chairman Patricia Dunn, general counsel Ann Baskins and HP lawyer Kevin Hunsaker all resigned. Dunn and Hunsaker are facing criminal charges under California law.

Three private investigators employed by HP were also charged. Friday, Bryan C. Wagner took a guilty plea, admitting that he was paid as part of a conspiracy to use Social Security numbers and other confidential information to obtain the telephone records of HP officials and reporters.

Wagner was charged on Jan. 10 with one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, unauthorized computer access to information, falsely representing an assigned Social Security numbers and disclosing and using a Social Security number.

The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or three years supervised release. The penalty for aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory minimum two years in prison, a maximum fine and two years supervised release.

Wagner's sentencing hearing is set for June 20.