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December 9, 2006

Congress Passes Pretexting Law, Finally

One of the last accomplishments of the lame-duck 109th Congress was to pass a law criminalizing pretexting.  That is the practice of lying to get the telephone records of another.  The bill introduced earlier this year as a reaction to the HP scandal where board members were investigated by company investigators over leaks.  That generated legal action by the State of California which the company settled for around $14.5 million.  That was in addition to the internal turmoil, the SEC investigations, and resignations at HP over the incident. 

The HP incident wasn't the only case.  Over the last year news broke over web sites and other investigators getting cell phone records belonging to FBI agents, members of congress, and even presidential candidate Wesley Clark.  That cut close to home but did not spur any law getting passed until yesterday. 

Anyone who uses false or fraudulent statements to phone company employees, or by obtaining false or fraudulent documents to access accounts, or by accessing customer accounts through the Internet face prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines.  Prison sentences and fines are enhanced if the damages are more than $100,000 or involve more than 50 customers.

Passage of this federal law comes in sharp contrast to the situation in California where the MPAA lobbied to kill a popular pretexting bill in the current Assembly.  The MPAA said the law would hinder their ability to investigate piracy.  Lying to get telephone records, Social Security numbers, financial, and other information is all part of keeping the product safe, and the state where the industry has the greatest clout managed to kill the bill at the last minute.  The most harrowing provision for the MPAA was probably giving the right to sue to the victims.  California ultimately did pass a bill that addressed telephone records and nothing else.

Stories are in the Washington Post and Wired.  The bill that Congress passed in H.R. 4709.  It's available from Thomas here.

December 9, 2006 | Permalink

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