Pryor's Bill to Protect Consumers Phone Records Passes Committee Hurdle; Senator Strengthens Bill to Allow Consumers Legal Recourse
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today passed legislation to end the growing business of obtaining or selling a consumer's phone records over the Internet for a nominal fee. Pryor introduced comparable legislation in February, and then worked with members of the committee to forge the bipartisan compromise that passed today.
Pryor said online information "brokers" are violating an individual's privacy when they provide the name and address connected to a cell phone number, and even the complete record of outgoing and incoming calls, all for less than $100. He said brokers obtain cell phone records through means which are illegal (having a phone company employee steal records or hack into a company computer) or deceptive (by impersonating the individual to obtain their information from a phone company). He said aside from nosy individuals, abusive spouses, business rivals and stalkers can also take advantage of this practice.
"Buying phone records online steps all over our right to privacy and presents significant safety concerns. The tough penalties and strong enforcement mechanisms in this bill will protect consumers from those willing to lie, steal, and hack into others' records to make a quick buck," Pryor said.
Pryor said the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, S.2389, makes the unauthorized use or disclosure of a customer's private telephone information an unfair and deceptive trade practice, enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
During Committee debate on the bill, Pryor offered an amendment to allow individuals the ability to bring legal action against someone who has caused them harm by stealing or selling their records. Pryor said the private right of action provision was in his original legislation, but he agreed to take it out of the compromise version and allow the full Committee to vote on it during debate. He argued before his committee that it's unfair to allow phone carriers this form of recourse when they've been wronged, but deny the same rights to individuals. His amendment passed by a bipartisan vote of 11-10.
In addition, the legislation that was passed today will:
* Ban any person from obtaining or selling another person's private phone information
* Allow State Attorneys General to bring civil action in U.S. District Courts to enforce provisions and seek penalties
* Designate the FTC and FCC as the primary enforcement agencies, authorizing civil penalties up to $11,000 per violation
* Strengthen current regulations relating to phone carrier safeguards
Pryor said he is hopeful the full Senate will consider the legislation in the coming weeks.