Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Phone data privacy bill gets a final push

Phone data privacy bill gets a final push
By Peter Kaplan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Monday mounted a final effort to pass legislation this year to ban the use of deceptive methods to obtain consumers telephone records.

Democrats and Republicans sought a deal that would clear the way for the Senate to approve the measure before the Republican-led 109th Congress draws to a close, likely at the end of this week, Senate leadership aides said.

The legislation was approved earlier this year by the House of Representatives. Both chambers need to pass it so it can be sent to President George W. Bush to sign into law.

If the 109th Congress expires before a final agreement is reach on the legislation, lawmakers would have to begin anew on the effort after the 110th Congress convenes on January 4 under the control of Democrats.

"This is just one of those (bills) that we can see pass," one GOP aide said.

The legislation is aimed at stopping the practice of impersonating people to obtain their telephone records, also known as pretexting.

There currently is no law against the practice which was spotlighted when Hewlett-Packard Co. admitted that its investigators obtained telephone records of board members, employees and journalists without their permission as the company tried to find who was leaking sensitive information.

The latest efforts to pass the legislation came as the Republican-led Congress began a final, week-long session.

The phone records measure is one of several that would be passed under unanimous consent, a process by which leaders from both parties agree to bring a bill to a vote on the Senate floor, aides said.

It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously in March but subsequently stalled in the full Senate.

Some Senate lawmakers had been pushing for a broader bill, which also would have given consumers and telephone companies the right to sue for damages.

But aides said they did not anticipate any objections to passing the House version of the bill.

"I think people have gotten to the point where it's basically this limited one or nothing," one Republican aide said. "People have realized that we're almost at the end."

The measure also prohibits buying records from a data broker and sets criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines. The bill would not interfere with investigations by federal, state or local law enforcement agencies.