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Legislation to Protect Consumers’
Private Phone Records

The Federal Trade Commission told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that “aggressive law enforcement is at the center of the FTC’s efforts to protect consumers’ telephone call records from pretexting,” and said that proposed legislation, the “Phone Records Act,” would provide important new tools that would assist the Commission in combating the unlawful practice.

“Ensuring the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information is one of the Commission’s highest priorities,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Individuals or companies that obtain access to consumers’ phone records through fraud, “without the consumer’s knowledge or consent, not only violate the law, but undermine consumers’ confidence in the marketplace and in the security of their sensitive data. Accordingly, the Commission has used its full arsenal of tools to attack the pretexters and the brokers who sell pretexted information.”

The testimony notes that consumers whose phone records were obtained and sold have testified that “they have been stalked and physically threatened by, for example, a former co-worker, an ex-spouse and an ex-boyfriend. In addition to the real threat posed to their safety, these consumers have spent significant time and hundreds of dollars changing phone numbers or service providers,” Parnes said.

“The proposed Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act (the “Phone Records Act”) contains several important components that would assist the Commission in combating phone pretexting,” the testimony states. The Act would prohibit pretexting –the act of posing as the customer to obtain that customer’s phone records – and “extend liability to individuals who solicit such records and knew or should have known that the records would be obtained through false pretenses,” she added.

“The Phone Records Act also would allow the FTC to recover civil penalties from violators. Often, monetary penalties can be the most effective civil remedy in privacy-related actions and . . . the Commission currently is unable to obtain this remedy in phone pretexting cases brought under the FTC Act,” the testimony states. “Finally the Phone Records Act contains an important exemption for law enforcement agencies in connection with their official duties,” Parnes testified.

“Protecting the privacy of consumers’ telephone records requires a multi-faceted approach,” the testimony notes, including coordinated law enforcement efforts, efforts by the telephone carriers to protect the records, and outreach to consumers on actions they can take to protect themselves. “The Commission has been at the forefront of efforts to safeguard consumer information and is committed to continuing its work in this area.”

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

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