Advocate ‘amazed’ over furor over listing part of lawmakers’ Social Security numbers

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A consumer advocate says he’s amazed by the furor he set off when he revealed part of the Social Security numbers of eight lawmakers who failed to support a financial privacy bill.

“It’s just amazing how politicians suddenly start caring about privacy issues when it’s their privacy at stake,” Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said Thursday.

The foundation listed the first four digits of the lawmakers’ Social Security numbers on its Web site after the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee rejected a bill designed to protect consumers’ financial information.

The four Democrats and four Republicans either voted against the bill Tuesday or didn’t vote. The Social Security number of a fifth Democrat, Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, who abstained, couldn’t be found, Court said.

The foundation’s actions sparked furious reactions from several legislators.

The committee’s chairwoman, Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, who voted for the bill, fired off a letter to Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, asking if there was any action the Assembly could take against Court.

“This is a blatant attempt to coerce members on an issue that reasonable people may disagree upon,” said Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa. “In fact, I believe this borders on extortion.”

She said she plans to ask the attorney general and legislative counsel if any laws were broken.

Another lawmaker, Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles, suggested that lawmakers enact legislation that would prohibit interest groups from using “certain types of threats to influence legislators.”

He said there had been several recent incidents in which lawmakers were threatened if they didn’t vote a certain way.

“No one wants to chill free speech, but some of the behavior is over the top and crosses the line between advocacy and intimidation,” he said.

“This should be a deliberative process and people should vote their consciences. If someone is handing out money to vote on a bill that’s clearly illegal. Why is it different if you threaten somebody to take adverse action against them” if they don’t vote your way?

Court, who was able to buy the lawmakers’ Social Security numbers online for $26, said he was trying to demonstrate how easily someone’s privacy could be invaded, not trying to influence committee members’ votes.

The partial numbers were posted after the bill was defeated, he said.

“It boggles the mind that it takes getting this personal for legislators to care this much about the issue,” Court said. “Their values are all backwards. All we are doing is putting a spot light on the fact that anyone can get this information on the Internet today.”

The bill, by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, would give consumers greater control over the sharing or selling of their personal information by banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions.

Speier has been trying to get a version of the bill enacted into law for four years, but has run into heavy opposition from business interests.

Court said lawmakers should be upset about the amounts of money spent by the bill’s opponents on lobbying and campaign donations.

He said the selling or exchanging of consumer information by banks and other companies makes it easier for that information to get into the hands of identity thieves.

Opponents say the measure would result in higher costs for consumers and hurt small firms.

The bill fell four votes short Tuesday of the bare majority needed to pass the 12-member committee.

Wiggins and Assemblywomen Wilma Chan (D-Alameda), and Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), voted for the bill. Assemblymen Russ Bogh (R-Beaumont); Ron Calderon (D-Covina); Guy Houston (R-San Ramon); and Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark), voted no, according to the committee.

Correa and Assembly members Ed Chavez (D-La Puente); Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando) and Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), abstained, and Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City), left before the vote.

Speier said she’ll ask the committee to reconsider the bill. Supporters say that if it doesn’t become law they’ll put a stronger pro-consumer proposal on the state ballot next year.

Wiggins said the bill will get another hearing, probably in a couple of weeks, but she said Court’s tactics could reduce its chances of passing.

“One would think, by offending people, they are not helping their cause,” she said.

Consumer Watchdog
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