Privacy advocate makes public point to opposing lawmakers

Published on

San Jose Mercury News (California)

When state lawmakers voted down a financial-privacy bill Tuesday afternoon, consumer advocate Jamie Court wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine.

So he hopped on the Internet, bought their Social Security numbers for $26 a pop and posted parts of them on his group’s Web site.

Now the lawmakers are firing back, threatening to ask the California Highway Patrol to investigate whether any laws were broken.

”Why would you do something like this?” said a chagrined Assemblyman Russ Bogh, R-Cherry Valley. ”The other side of the aisle is stooping pretty low.”

The incident underscores the raw emotions that have surrounded one of the most closely watched bills in the Legislature this year.

The bill, SB 1 by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, would restrict the sharing of personal information by financial institutions. The bill passed the Senate, but the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee voted down the measure Tuesday, possibly killing it for good.

Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said he was trying to make a point about the easy availability of personal information — and what he says is the refusal of lawmakers to do anything about it.

”I wish the politicians who are worked up about the invasion of their own privacy were just as worked up about the privacy of the other 29 million Californians,” said Court, the author of a new book about corporate power.

Court said he bought the names through a Web site called Discreet Research.

In a news release and on his group’s Web site, he published the first four digits of the Social Security numbers of eight of the nine lawmakers who either voted against the bill or declined to vote.

Court could not find the Social Security number of one committee member who voted against the bill, Lou Correa, D-Anaheim.

The group also created a fake baseball card featuring Gov. Gray Davis. The card shows three digits of Davis’ Social Security number and lists his position as shortstop. ”Stops Short of Going to Bat for Privacy,” it says.

Davis expressed his support for the bill but some consumer advocates question whether he did enough to get it passed.

Legislative aides said the lawmakers were examining two laws that Court might have violated. One has to do with threatening lawmakers in an effort to influence votes; the other forbids the posting of Social Security numbers on the Internet.

”I think this does damage to their cause,” Bogh said. ”And I think they should be held liable for this.”
Contact Michael Bazeley at [email protected]

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