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
Two U.S. House committees have already passed similar
“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
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
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.”