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Lawmakers take another stab at anti-pretexting bill

In a week where the government celebrated consumer protection and a buyout firm said it was the subject of a federal probe involving fraudulent access to phone records, key House lawmakers revived a bill to impose regulations on cellphone carriers and others to safeguard subscribers’ call data as part of privacy legislative package.
“Pretexting is pretending to be somebody you’re not, to get something you probably shouldn’t have, to use in a way that’s probably wrong,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Commerce Committee. “This committee did its part last year to pass a bill that made it abundantly clear where the federal government stands regarding pretexting for personal records. We passed the Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act unanimously, and I hope we do it again. It should be illegal to obtain people’s phone records fraudulently, as well as to solicit or sell such records. If it can happen to a member of the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company like Hewlett-Packard, it can happen to any of us.”
Allied Capital Corp., a debt and equity financing firm headquartered blocks from the U.S. Capitol, last week said it received in late December a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia requesting records regarding the use of private investigators who could be responsible for obtaining phone records of a major critic of Allied.
“National Consumer Protection Week is a fitting time to make a serious down payment on resolving the scourge of identity theft and related abuse,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee. “We intend to process these bills by regular order in the committee and report them expeditiously to the House. We will work cooperatively with other committees to resolve jurisdictional issues, and with stakeholders (government regulators, consumer groups, and business) to resolve policy issues. The American public is owed no less than the full measure of our combined best efforts. These bills address serious problems that are not going away and only worsen while the Congress dithers.”
Congress last year criminalized pretexting, but the House for reasons still unclear did not vote on a separate committee bill penned by Barton and Dingell to require telecom carriers to better protect subscribers’ phone records. The Barton-Dingell bill was teed up March 16 for a vote on the House floor, but the legislation ended up dying.
The wireless industry last year voiced concerns about the Barton-Dingell bill. Industry’s position has not changed in the new year.
“We wholeheartedly supported the pretexting legislation that passed the House of Representative without opposition and is now law because it focused on the criminals who were stealing wireless subscriber call records. We believe the new law will serve as a significant and meaningful deterrent to individuals who would contemplate this criminal trade and feel additional legislation is unnecessary at this time,” said CTIA spokesman Joe Farren.
Meantime, lobbying is heavy at the Federal Communications Commission on a proposal to subject carriers to new regulations to help prevent pretexting. The agency is considering requiring a password by those seeking phone records from telecom carriers and prohibiting service providers from sharing phone call data with joint venture partners. Rep. Jay Insee (D-Wash.) also introduced a bill to curb pretexting.

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