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CU lauds bipartisan effort in committee to protect phone records

March 8, 2006
CU Applauds House Commerce Committee Action to Protect Consumer Phone Records Privacy
Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, lauded the bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s approval today of the Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act. The bill creates new prohibitions on, and penalties for, pretexting – the practice of impersonating another person or using other deceptive means to obtain phone records—and requires phone companies to implement stricter safeguards to protect subscribers’ personal records before they are released.
“While this bill doesn’t do everything that’s required to protect consumers, it takes significant steps forward in giving consumers greater control over their personal, private records,” said Magda Herrera, a Consumers Union advocate, “and it requires phone companies to shoulder their responsibility in ensuring the privacy of subscribers. Enforcement alone will not solve the problem of phone records privacy breaches.”
The legislation explicitly prohibits pretexting to obtain subscriber phone records, which include detailed private information such as who you called, when you made the call, how long you talked, where you live, and more. The bill also prohibits the commercial sale of this information by phone companies, their affiliates, joint venture partners, and contractors.
In addition, the bill requires the FCC to promulgate stringent regulations, requiring phone companies to implement stringent security measures to prevent privacy breeches and to maintain records for request of consumer records and how the company verified the identity of the requesting party. Finally, the bill requires companies to get affirmative consent from consumers before their detailed, private calling records are released to joint venture partners, independent contractors, and others. Current regulations allow companies to share these records with other companies unless consumers object; notices that consumers may withdraw consent are often buried in contracts or billing statements. Few consumers are aware they have this power to opt-out.
“Phone companies first priority should be their customers, not their business partners. And at least for detailed calling records, this legislation helps insure that they will be,” said Herrera.
Last week both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees unanimously approved legislation applying criminal penalties to pretexting. The Senate Commerce Committee has not yet taken up the issue.


Contact: Jen Fuson 202-462-6262