U.S. Senate Poised to Put Bank Profits Over Consumer Privacy

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Group Acknowledges Purchase of Senators’ Social Security Numbers

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on legislation tomorrow that will allow banks to share a consumer’s private financial information with corporate affiliates despite state laws limiting such activity. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) acknowledged that it had been able to legally purchase the Social Security numbers of the Senator who authored the bill and other Congressional leaders on the Internet due to inadequate national privacy laws.

The federal legislation will override a new landmark California financial privacy law and pre-empt any future state laws that attempt to limit information sharing between a bank and its corporate family.

“The fact that anyone can buy nearly everyone’s Social Security numbers and other private information legally on the Internet underscores the need for stronger, not weaker, privacy protections,” said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. “Since corporate affiliates so widely share and sell individuals’ private information, we were able to buy Senator Shelby’s, Senator Sarbanes’, and House Speaker Hastert’s Social Security number on the Internet for $30.”

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the author of the pending federal legislation, S-1753. Senator Sarbanes (D-MD) is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee which approved the bill unanimously. A version of the legislation has already cleared the House of Representatives (HR 2622).

Under California’s new privacy law, financial institutions must ask permission before selling a consumer’s private information to other companies and cannot share private information among many 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.

Recently, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) hired a professional skywriter to disclose the first five digits of Citigroup CEO Charles Princes’ Social Security number over New York City to protest Citigroup’s support of the bill.  Citigroup, which has 2400 affiliates, spent $4.6 million so far this year lobbying on Capitol Hill to take Americans’ privacy rights and $11.7 million since 2000. Photos of the event are available for downloading at

The Bush Administration’s support of S.1753 preemption of stronger state privacy laws violates promises the president made during his 2000 campaign. 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 designed to preserve more generous state privacy protections.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy organization.  For more information, visit us on the web at

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Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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