Schwarzenegger ‘outlaws’ pretexting

Although the U.S. Congress adjourned on Saturday without acting on legislation to ban pretexting in the wake of the scandal involving Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill last Friday that forbids the practice in the state.

The California anti-pretexting law, Senate Bill 202, goes into effect on Jan. 1 and will prohibit telephone companies from making personal telephone calling records available to anyone other than the original caller. The law specifies that the written consent of the original caller is needed to release the records to any other individual or agency. Fraudulent attempts to obtain the records will be punishable by fines of up to US$2,500 or a jail term up to one year. And a person who violates the law and has a previous conviction faces a fine of up to $10,000 or up to one year in jail.

“It is the intent of the legislature to ensure that telephone companies maintain telephone calling pattern records or lists in the strictest confidence, and protect the privacy of their subscribers with all due care,” the bill states. “While it is not the intent of the legislature in this act to preclude the sharing of information that is currently allowed by both state and federal laws and rules governing those records, it is the legislature’s intent in this act to preclude any unauthorized purchase or sale of that information.”

The law applies to both landline and cell phone records.

California previously did not have laws addressing the pretexting issue. Meanwhile, a national bill that would ban pretexting was left on the table Saturday when Congress recessed until Nov. 9. Despite pressure from members of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, the full House failed to act on the Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act.

That bill would have allowed the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to seek civil penalties against businesses that obtain personal data under false pretenses.

The committee has been looking into privacy concerns related to pretexting since early this year, but the issue came to a head last month when HP revealed that it had used questionable investigative techniques in the surveillance of board members, employees and reporters. HP officials were called before Congress last week to testify about the probe.

In pretexting, someone pretends to be a phone company customer in order to gain access to personal telephone records such as call logs.

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