House Panel Rekindles Hope for Pretexting Bill

WASHINGTON –- The large Gone With the Wind poster with H.R. 4943 scrawled on it seemed to seal the fate of anti-pretexting legislation favored by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Yesterday during a hearing on Hewlett-Packard’s pretexting scandal, Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said the bill was in a “black hole,” but Friday morning he had renewed hope for the legislation.

“It’s been found! There’s a good chance it might come up today,” Barton said to applause as the second day of the panel’s pretexting hearings got underway.

“It might be at midnight, but there’s a chance.”

The House hopes to adjourn for the fall elections late Friday or early Saturday morning. Any bill approved by the House would also have to pass the Senate, which also plans to adjourn this weekend.

Nevertheless, Barton said, “There is a reasonable chance we’ll get it today.”

The bill criminalizes the practice of pretexting –- assuming the identity of another to gain access to the personal telephone records of another. In addition, it requires telephone companies to conduct periodic audits and file annual reports about pretexting activities on their networks.

It also mandates that telecom carriers inform consumers when pretexting attempts have been on their accounts.

“The Hewlett-Packard scandal and the eye-opening testimony we heard yesterday again brings home the fact that pretexting is a serious problem that must be fought on multiple fronts,” Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield said Friday as he opened the second day of the pretexting hearings.

The Friday session focused on telecom carriers’ responsibilities in protecting the data that pretexters target.

The House passed a bill in March drafted by its Judiciary Committee that makes pretexting for telephone records a crime. It does address the carrier side of the issue.

In the Senate, two different pretexting bills are bogged down over jurisdictional wrangling between the Commerce and Judiciary Committees.

In March, the Judiciary Committee approved the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act (TRAPP), and the Senate Commerce Committee passed the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act.

The TRAPP Act would make it a federal felony to obtain customer information from a telephone service provider by false pretenses or to access a customer account on the Internet to obtain billing information without authorization.

The Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act would make it illegal to acquire, use or sell a person’s confidential phone records without that person’s affirmative written consent.

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