Bush signs bill to penalize pretexters
President Bush signed the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 on Jan. 5.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, criminalizes the fraudulent sale or solicitation of confidential telephone records.
"Selling or buying a person's phone records without permission invades their privacy," Rep. Smith said in a statement on his Web site. "This data fraud can adversely affect Americans' lives. A careful study of these records may reveal details of our medical or financial life. It may even identify our occupation or physical location - a serious concern for undercover police officers and victims of stalking or domestic violence."
The bill makes pretexting - the act of buying, selling or obtaining personal phone records without the phone customer's consent - a federal crime that could yield up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
The activity has been linked to identity theft and has become a moneymaking scam. Individuals who pose as phone company representatives or customers falsely obtain access to customer records. Some companies established a presence on the Internet, advertising the ability to obtain private personal cell phone and landline calling records for as little as $100.
Even before this bill was signed, federal law banned pretexting to obtain someone's financial records. Some states already have outlawed telephone pretexting. But many politicians and consumer advocacy groups urged enactment of a federal law to clarify that the practice is illegal.
Calls to criminalize pretexting increased last summer after Hewlett-Packard acknowledged that its investigators had used false pretenses to obtain the phone records of journalists and board members in an elaborate effort to uncover the source of boardroom media leaks.
More legislation could be on the way. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, has reintroduced a bill to require wireless, Internet and wireline phone companies to implement new safeguards against unauthorized access to their customers' records. The bill also would let consumers sue those who managed to secure their records without their permission.
Though the Direct Marketing Association knew that pretexting was against the law, it supported the federal effort.
"Our position all along was that there was really no need for a new law, but we support any efforts to crack down on illegal activities," said Stephanie Hendricks, a DMA spokeswoman.