In the last two weeks of 2010, President Obama signed the following three acts addressing privacy:
Red Flags Program Clarification Act of 2010
President Obama signed the “Red Flag Program Clarification Act of 2010,” S. 2987, (“Clarification Act”) on December 18, 2010, which became Public Law No: 111-319. The Clarification Act narrows the definition “creditor” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by adding a definition to Section 615(e), 15 U.S.C. § 1681m(e), to address issues with the breadth of the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Red Flags Rule (“Red Flag Rule”).
The FTC’s Red Flag Rule was promulgated pursuant to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, under which the FTC and other agencies were directed to draft regulations requiring “creditors” and “financial institutions” with “covered accounts” to implement written identify theft prevention programs to identify, detect and respond to patterns, practices or specific activities—the so called “red flags”—that could indicate identify theft. The FTC interpreted the definition of “creditor” to include entities that regularly permit deferred payment for goods and services, which included lawyers, doctors, and other service providers not typically considered to be “creditors.” This interpretation led to lawsuits by professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, challenging the FTC’s position that the Red Flags Rule should apply to its members.
The Clarification Act limits the definition of creditor to entities that regularly and in the ordinary course of business: (i) obtain or use consumer credit reports, (ii) furnish information to consumer reporting agencies, or (ii) advance funds to or on behalf of a person. The definition of creditor specifically excludes creditors that “advance funds on behalf of a person for expenses incidental to a service provided by the creditor to that person.” However, the Clarification Act also allows the definition of creditor to be expanded by rules promulgated by the FTC or other regulating agencies to include creditors which offer or maintain accounts determined to be subject to a reasonably foreseeable risk of identity theft.
S. 2987 was introduced and by Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and co-sponsored by Mark Begich (D-Alaska) on November 30, 2010, and the Senate unanimously approved the bill the same day. An identical companion bill was introduced in the House, H.R. 6420, by Representatives John Alder (D-N.J.), Paul Broun (R-Georgia), and Michael Simpson (R-Idaho) on November 17, 2010. S. 2987 passed the House on December 7, 2010.
The FTC had previously delayed enforcement of the Red Flags Rule several times, most recently in May 2010 when it delayed enforcement through December 31, 2010. The FTC’s Red Flags Rule website, http://www.ftc.gov/redflagsrule, notes that the FTC will be revising its Red Flags guidance to reflect the Clarification Act changes.
Social Security Number Protection Act of 2010
President Obama also signed the “Social Security Number Protection Act of 2010,” S. 3789, on December 18, 2010, which became Public Law No: 111-318. S. 3789 was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali.) and co-sponsored with bipartisan support, including Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The Act aims to reduce identity theft by limiting access to Social Security numbers, according to a statement from Senator Feinstein.
The Act prohibits any federal, state, or local agency from displaying Social Security numbers, or any derivatives of such numbers, on government checks issued after December 18, 2013. The Act also prohibits any federal, state or local entity agency from employing prisoners in jobs that would allow access to Social Security numbers after December 18, 2011.
S. 3789 unanimously passed in the Senate on September 28, 2010, and passed in the House by voice vote under suspension of its rules on December 8, 2010.
Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009
On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the “Truth in Caller ID Act,” S. 30, which became Public Law No: 111-331. The Caller ID Act is intended to combat the problem of caller ID “spoofing” where identity thieves alter the name and number appearing as caller ID information in an attempt to trick people into revealing personal information over the phone.
The Caller ID Act amended Section 227 of the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 227, to make it illegal to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud or cause harm. However, the Caller ID Act specifically prohibits anything in it from being construed as preventing or restricting any person from using caller ID blocking.
The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is required to prescribe regulations to implement the Act within six months. The Caller ID Act specifically exempts law enforcement activity and caller ID manipulation authorized by court order, and it also allows the FCC to define other exemptions by regulation.
The FCC can impose civil forfeiture penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, or $30,000 for each day of continuing violation, up to a cap of $1,000,000 for any single act or failure to act. Willful and knowing violations of the Caller ID Act can result in criminal penalties including the same monetary penalties and up to a year in prison.
S. 30 was introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on January 7, 2009, and passed in the Senate on February 23, 2010. The bill was approved in the House on December 15, 2010 by voice vote under suspension of its rules. S. 30 was very similar to H.R. 1258 introduced by Representatives Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and passed by the House on April 14, 2010, according to a statement released by Representative Engle.