Commerce Committee Approves Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act

March 30, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today approved by voice vote S. 2389, the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, which prevents unscrupulous companies and individuals from fraudulently obtaining consumers' private phone records in a deceptive practice known as “pretexting.”

Commerce Committee Members adopted a substitute amendment to the original bill, which was introduced by Senator George Allen (R-Va.) and is co-sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Committee Members Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), David Vitter (R-La.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

The Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, which covers wireless, wireline, and IP telephony services, makes it illegal to acquire, use or sell a person’s confidential phone records without that person’s affirmative written consent, which can be given electronically. Under the bill, a carrier must notify a customer if someone without authorization gains access to their phone records. It also specifically clarifies that the practice of fraudulent pretexting is illegal, and charges the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with concurrent enforcement.

As approved by the Committee, S. 2389 directs the FCC to ensure that its phone record regulations are similar in scope and structure to FTC regulations protecting financial information under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. It also streamlines the two-step FCC process for fining phone record theft by non-carriers, such as databrokers and websites selling the information. Currently, this process can tip-off parties that are not regulated by the FCC that they are under investigation because the FCC must issue a notice before it can move to an enforcement action. The penalty for each violation is $30,000 with a cap of $3 million for any continuing violation.

The legislation also extends the one-year statute of limitations for pursuing violations to two years; allows phone companies and individual subscribers to sue privacy thieves; establishes a national standard for phone record protection requirements; allows state officials to enforce the law; and requires phone companies to certify their compliance annually.

During the Committee’s mark-up, Members adopted three separate amendments to the bill. Chairman Stevens and Senator Burns offered an amendment, which was adopted by voice vote, that expands the state enforcement provision to allow enforcement by State Public Utility Commissions or other state agencies in states that have delegated enforcement of such matters to such officials. Senator Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) and Senator Burns’ amendment that allows consumers to decide whether their wireless numbers are listed in any future cell phone directories was also adopted by voice vote. Finally, by a vote of 11-10, the Committee approved Senator Pryor’s amendment that authorizes civil suits by individuals whose phone records have been unlawfully acquired, sold, or used.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.

Click here for a copy of the bill as reported