Plea comes in second day of testimony in Congressional HP spying hearings
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Executives from the nation's largest wireless telephone
companies told lawmakers Friday they should outlaw the practice of
lying to get access to someone else's phone records, also known as
On the second day of testimony over the spying scandal that has
embroiled the Hewlett-Packard Co., a House Energy and Commerce
subcommittee asked the six executives to defend how they safeguard
their customers' private billing information.
The nearly three-hour hearing followed Thursday's session at which
Hewlett-Packard's top executives were grilled about their roles in the
scandal. Most invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self
incrimination, time after time.
At Friday's hearing only one witness, Doug Atkin, owner of
Anglo-American Investigations Inc., invoked his right to refuse to
The most impassioned testimony came from a reporter, Christopher
Byron, whose phone records were obtained by a company about which he
had written an unfavorable story.
Lawmakers asked what happened to a bill their panel had approved that
would ban pretexting, underscoring the point by putting up a mock
vintage movie poster in the hearing room that read, 'H.R. 4943, Gone
with the Wind.'
All six of the telephone company executives said they would support a
bill criminalizing the practice of pretexting.
Thomas Meiss, associate general counsel at Cingular Wireless, the
nation's largest cell phone provider, said his company can sue a firm
that obtains customer records from his company under false pretenses,
but that is not enough of a penalty.
"I don't trust these people at all," he said of data brokerage firms
that sell private phone records. "They need to be in jail."
Last spring, the House passed a different bill by a vote of 409-0 that
would put pretexters in prison for as long as 10 years and provide for
stiff fines. A broader bill supported by the Energy and Commerce
Committee, which has not made it to the floor, provides for civil
fines against pretexters, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
Current law lets the FTC pursue those accused of obtaining financial
records through fraudulent means, but the agency is limited in what it
can do with pretexters.
Joel Winston, who heads the agency's privacy section, said under current
law the agency can only issue an injunction to make the pretexter stop
doing business, and sue for ill-gotten profits. Legislation that allowed
for specific fines against pretexting would be helpful, he said.
Kris Anne Monteith, chief of the Federal Communications
Commission's Enforcement Bureau, said her agency has been trying to
deter pretexters, including enforcing a requirement on carriers to
certify that they have data protections in place. The FCC has issued
$650,000 in fines against carriers for failure to comply with existing
FCC rules on private customer information.
Monteith also acknowledged that the agency had issued 'letters of
inquiry,' the first step in an FCC investigation, to a number of
carriers asking whether customer information was disclosed 'without
authorization in connection with Hewlett-Packard's activities.'
The Senate is working on a compromise bill on pretexting that has
become the victim of a turf war between two committees.
Congress is scheduled to adjourn this weekend, but will likely be back
after the election for a 'lame duck' session.
Meanwhile, the states appear to be having more success getting
legislation passed. On Friday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
signed an anti-pretexting bill into law.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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