Keeping ID Theft Victims in the Dark
This just in: Pretexting is illegal.
President Bush recently signed the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 that makes it illegal to use a false identity or other fraudulent means to gain access to an individual's phone records.
(It was illegal before, but now you can go to prison for 10 years for buying, selling or otherwise obtaining personal phone records, unless you're law enforcement.)
In related news, last Friday, Bryan Wagner, a private eye who used pretexting to investigate reporters for Hewlett-Packard, pled guilty to two felony counts.
In the midst of the big headlines, however, one tidbit about pretexting seems to have gone unnoticed. The eagle-eyed folks at HearUsNow.org have come across a letter from the Justice Department to the Federal Communications Commission, which is working on regulations regarding pretexting.
The letter makes a pitch for, of all things, a way to delay notifying consumers when they have been victims of pretexting.
"Allowing for delayed consumer notification in appropriate cases enhances our ability to investigate the circumstances surrounding the loss of the data and, thereby, advances consumer protection," Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty wrote to the FCC on Dec. 28th.
Telling victims immediately, Justice argued, could tip off criminals, "causing them, among other things, to destroy evidence, change their behavior, and accelerate their illegal use of any data before consumers or company victims can act."
The feds want carriers to hold off telling victims for seven days after notifying the authorities. The only exceptions are if the carrier believes "there is an extraordinary urgent need ... in order to avoid immediate and irreparable harm" or if law enforcement decides that telling consumers won't impede their investigation.
Hmmm. The question is, how would carriers define irreparable harm?
It's not as if there is a great track record of victims being made whole once perpetrators are caught. Consumers often do a better job of protecting their assets and their credit standing by trying to limit the damage as soon as possible. Everyone wants the bad guys caught. But delaying immediate notification of victims seems like a hefty price to pay, no? What do you think?
I'd also like to know whether delaying victim notification in the HP case helped investigators. Anyone out there know and care to share?
If you're curious about how much personal information the average person transmits on a daily basis, even without pretexting PIs on her tail, check out my colleague Ellen Nakashima's story in Tuesday's paper that chronicled the bits of data one woman leaves behind in the course of a normal day. The story's subject isn't some crazy gadget hound who has embedded RFID chips in herself or signed up for one of those GPS-enabled cellphone services that lets her stalk her pals when they're five minutes late for dinner. She's just an ordinary woman -- though maybe a more paranoid one now.
You can find more privacy resources here.
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