The American Banker
The fight over national financial privacy laws will reach new heights this morning.
A privacy advocate group plans to display the first five digits of the Social Security number of Citigroup Inc.’s chief executive, Chuck Prince, in mile-high letters over the Manhattan skyline.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, Calif., says it bought Mr. Prince’s entire number on the Web for $30. And it paid a skywriter to underscore the availability of consumer financial data and the need for laws restricting information-sharing by financial services companies.
The foundation will hold a press conference at Citi’s midtown Manhattan headquarters at 11 a.m. to coincide with the event.
Jerry Flanagan, the group’s spokesman, called Citi the “poster child for bad privacy policies,” because of its data-sharing among its many affiliates. Citi has also been a leading lobbyist for a bill that would prevent states from passing laws letting consumers “opt out” of such sharing, he said.
“They’re lobbying to keep the status quo. If the status quo allows us to buy the Social Security number of Charles Prince for $30 over the Internet, then laws weren’t strong enough,” Mr. Flanagan said by phone from Manhattan.
The skywriting had been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed, because of cloudy skies. That corresponded with the Senate’s delaying until next week a vote on a bill that would make permanent a ban on states’ setting their own rules on credit-related issues. The bill would also let consumers block solicitations from affiliates of firms with which they do business.
The foundation used a similar tactic in June, when financial privacy legislation stalled in the California Assembly. After a key committee failed to pass the bill, the group published the first four Social Security digits of eight members who did not vote or voted no.
Irate lawmakers said that the move was like extorting votes and vowed to look into whether laws were violated. Mr. Flanagan said Thursday that no action was taken against the group. “They protested loudly, but they found out it wasn’t illegal.”