Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-AL, has introduced legislation that would prevent the unauthorized disclosure of Social Security numbers.
The legislation, called the Social Security Privacy Act of 2001, would prohibit financial institutions from selling or buying an individual's Social Security number. The bill, introduced earlier this month, would include Social Security numbers as “nonpublic personal information” subject to the privacy protections of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
That act, which went into effect Nov. 12, essentially reverses previous legislation that prevented banks, insurance companies and securities firms from entering each other's businesses and allows banks to share information about their customers freely within the divisions of any new conglomerates. It also prevents banks from sharing credit card account numbers and access codes with third parties, a practice that some groups, including the Direct Marketing Association, oppose.
The Federal Trade Commission has given financial institutions until July to comply with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
Shelby, one of Congress' leading privacy advocates and co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said he intended to strengthen the privacy provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act so consumers could control how banks share personal information. He said he did not think the bill provided enough privacy protection for consumers.
“I believe Congress has a duty to stop Social Security numbers from being bought and sold like some common commodity,” Shelby said. “Social Security numbers are key to just about all the personal information concerning an individual. While Congress waits to act, the easy access and extreme availability of our personal information has led to fraud, abuse, identity theft and, in the more extreme cases, stalking and death.”
Shelby also said he would introduce a bill this session that would require the Federal Reserve to gather the privacy policies of all banks and other financial institutions and post them on a central Web site, allowing consumers to compare privacy standards.
Shelby advocated toughening the privacy provisions in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act but was thwarted by industry opposition and other lawmakers who said they did not want to impede the flow of information.