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California Legislature Enacts Toughest Financial Privacy Protections In The Nation


Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Michael McCauley 415-412-4642 (cell)
Laurie Azzano 504-296-1349 (cell)
Tiffany Kelley 925-560-2614
Senate Vote Sends SB1 to Governor, Who Has Pledged to Sign Into Law

SACRAMENTO, CA – With bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate, the California state legislature has passed the strongest financial privacy protections in the nation. Today’s approval of SB 1 by the California Senate sends the measure to Governor Gray Davis for his signature. Governor Davis has already pledged to sign the landmark consumer protection bill into law.
“This is a major victory for consumers in California that represents a milestone in the campaign for financial privacy reform,” said Shelley Curran, Policy Analyst for Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office. “After years of special interest gridlock that stood in the way of reform, everyday Californians have triumphed over big money politics in Sacramento.”
“Californians demanded reform from the state legislature and today they’ve won important new rights to protect their financial privacy,” said Lupe de la Cruz, California State Manager of Advocacy for AARP. “We’ve scored a huge victory today in California, but we intend to push Congress to make sure that all consumers enjoy greater control over who has access to their private financial information.”
Californians for Privacy Now (www.californiaprivacy.org) pledged to take the issue directly to the voters with a March 2004 ballot measure if lawmakers failed to act by the end of the day on August 19. Now that the legislature has enacted strong privacy reform legislation and the Governor has agreed to sign it into law, the coalition announced that it will not proceed with its initiative campaign. Californians for Privacy Now had collected over 600,000 signatures from registered California voters in support of the measure.
“Today’s victory belongs to the over 600,000 Californians who signed our ballot measure petitions and the countless others who have been calling on state lawmakers to act,” said Chris Larsen, Chairman and CEO of E-LOAN. “The people spoke loud and clear and lawmakers in Sacramento have finally responded by passing important new privacy protections for consumers.”
“The public’s demand for greater financial privacy protection enjoys overwhelming popular support that cuts across all ideological lines,” said Steve Blackledge, Director of CALPIRG. “The nearly unanimous lopsided legislative victories in the Assembly and Senate make it clear that lawmakers got the message — consumers are fed up and want greater control over their private financial information.”
Under Senator Speier’s financial privacy bill, California consumers will have the right to stop the sharing of information by financial institutions with affiliates unless they meet very stringent criteria. The bill requires financial institutions to obtain a consumer’s affirmative consent before sharing information with third parties. It also establishes standards that financial institutions would be required to follow to inform consumers of their privacy rights. The current weak federal law gives consumers very little control over how their personal information is used by financial institutions and leaves consumers vulnerable to identity theft, aggressive marketing practices and fraud.
“Consumers can say goodbye to the confusing and incomprehensible privacy statements they receive from their banks and insurance companies that give them virtually no ability to stop the flow of their private financial information to others,” said Beth Givens, Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “This new law requires financial institutions to explain in plain language how consumers can exercise their expanded rights and imposes stiff penalties for those business which fail to comply.”
“Most people are very particular about disclosing personal financial information to others and yet current federal law allows banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions to trade and sell their customer’s information with very little restriction.” said Valerie Small Navarro, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “This bill gives consumers significant new control so they can limit who has access to their private financial information.”
The new financial privacy law adopted by California comes at a time when Congress is debating amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Financial industry lobbyists have argued that a section of the FCRA prevents states from enacting restrictions on information sharing by financial institutions with affiliates. This section of the FCRA is due to expire at the end of the year. In addition, privacy advocates point out that when Congress passed the Gramm Leach Bliley Act in 1999, it specifically invited the states to enact stronger financial privacy protections than those contained in the federal law. Nonetheless, the debate over the FCRA is expected to be intense.
“While today’s vote marks a milestone in protecting Californian’s financial privacy rights, we need to make sure that these important new protections are not undermined by the politically powerful financial industry when this issue is debated in Congress,” said Richard Holober, President of the Consumer Federation of California. “We urge Senators Feinstein, Boxer and our entire congressional delegation to defend the right of states like California to enact financial privacy protections that are stronger than the weak federal law.”
Consumers can send their lawmakers in Congress an email urging them to support the ability of states to pass stronger financial privacy laws through a new web site created by Consumers Union. To send an email, go to: www.FinancialPrivacyNow.org.