No Privacy For Americans, None For Citigroup CEO
NEW YORK CITY -- A California consumer group used a professional skywriter to release the first five digits of the Citigroup CEO's Social Security number today in protest of Citigroup-backed legislation in the U.S. Senate which would gut state privacy laws.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) wrote between the clouds, in fifteen story high numbers, the first five digits of CEO Charles Prince's social security number above Citigroup headquarters at 53rd and Lexington in New York City to show how everyone's privacy is at risk without better laws. Photos of the event are available for viewing at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/assets/scans/privacycb3.gif
The federal bill backed by Citgroup-- a version of which already passed the House -- will nullify California's recently-enacted landmark financial privacy law and pre-empt all future state legislation allowing consumers to say no to the sharing or selling of their private information among Citigroup's 2400 affiliate companies. Citigroup spent $4.6 million so far this year lobbying on Capitol Hill to take Americans' privacy rights and $11.7 million since 2000.
The bill, S.1753 (Shelby/Sarbanes), is expected to be debated on the Senate floor next Tuesday. Consumer advocates urged Senators to oppose the bill with a filibuster or a "no" vote.
"Americans want and deserve to have their privacy protected," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) at a press conference prior to the skywriting event. "Citigroup, which announced a 20% profit increase this week, routinely violates this right for it is own financial gain. Banks should oppose, not support, the pending federal legislation."
"Bank CEOs like Mr. Prince must realize their own privacy is at risk when their companies recklessly trade our private information like stocks and bonds without regard for Americans' desire for privacy," said Jamie Court, president of FTCR and author of Corporateering. "Since corporate affiliates so widely share and sell individuals' private information, we were able to buy not only Prince's Social Security number on the Internet for $30 but also the social security numbers of John Aschcroft, CIA Director George Tenet and FTC Chairman Timothy Muris. Current federal privacy laws are not good enough."
Under California's new privacy law, financial institutions must ask permission before selling their private information to other companies and cannot share private information among most of their affiliates against a consumer's will. Federal law allows for widespread sharing of information among thousands of corporate affiliates even when a consumer says no putting individuals' private information at great risk. Under the pending legislation, federal law would be the only law allowed to exist.
Court noted that the Bush Administration's support of HR 2622's preemption of stronger state privacy laws violates promises the president made during his 2000 campaign, but has yet to deliver. Bush said he wanted to make it a criminal offense to sell a person's social security number without his or her permission. [Associated Press, October 29, 2000, Q&A: Gore and Bush on Education, Trade and Other Issues] Bush also said: ``I think there ought to be laws that say a company cannot use my information without my permission. We can live in a private world" [ZDNN Q&A with George W. Bush, ZDNet News, Jun. 21, 2000]. Similarly, the president said ``I believe privacy is a fundamental right, and that every American should have absolute control over his or her personal information." [Candidates on the issues: Internet Privacy, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 6, 2001]
Since the 2002 election cycle, big banks contributed $20.6 million dollars to Congressional representatives - 63% to Republicans. Since 2000, President Bush has received $2.1 million from securities and investment firms, $582,250 from commercial banks, $562,292 from insurance companies and another $967,100 from other finance companies.
The reckless exchange of social security numbers and other private information among America's corporations has dramatically increased Americans' risk of identity theft. Identity theft led all complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and doubled in 2002. Recently the FTC announced almost 10 million Americans are victimized by identity theft each year.
California Senators Feinstein and Boxer will propose a floor amendment to legislation reauthorizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that preserves more generous state privacy protections.