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NEWS RELEASE
Nov 05, 2003


CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan, (415) 633-1320 or Jamie Court, (310) 392-0522 ext. 327

President Bush Lied About Privacy Protections, Consumer Group Shows

FTCR sent letter to Bush today showing that Administration's support of bill violates Bush's explicit campaign promises
Washington D.C. -- The Bush Administration's support of anti-privacy legislation, S. 1753, to be voted on by the U.S. Senate today proves that Bush lied to voters during the 2000 presidential campaign, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). A failed amendment proposed yesterday by Senator Feinstein of California would have allowed consumers to say no to banks who share private information with affiliates.

FTCR sent a letter to President Bush today showing that the Administration's support of the bill violates the President's strong and explicit campaign promises to allow consumers to have "absolute" control over their private information. FTCR wrote:

"While campaigning in 2000 you promised voters in the strongest and most explicit possible terms that you would protect our privacy if elected President. Those commitments do not square with your Administration's support of legislation to give banks free rein to share our information with thousands of corporate affiliates."

Bush's campaign promises pointed out by FTCR include:

** "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).

** "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" (George Bush talks tech with ZDNet, ZDNet News, Jun. 20, 2000).

** "I believe in "opt-in" privacy policies because we must protect medical, financial, and other sensitive personal information. Online profiling, especially the linking of online and offline databases, is a serious concern" (PC World's 2000 Voting Guide).

FTCR's complete letter to President Bush is available following this release.

In the fine print of the legislation, S. 1753, big banks seek to win a victory over consumer privacy by gutting state laws that allow consumers to tell banks not to trade their private financial information with corporate affiliates. If passed today by the Senate, a conference committee will be convened in the coming weeks to reconcile the House and Senate bills before a final version is sent to President Bush.

"President Bush lied to Americans about his intentions to protect our privacy. This is a stealth attack by big banks, President Bush and other corporateers to put profits above the privacy rights of every American," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "The Clinton scandals taught us that the American public will accept a lot from a president, but not a lie. President Bush will likely have the final word on this legislation and he is faced with a choice: perpetuate a lie or fulfill his promise to protect our privacy."

To demonstrate how everyone's privacy is at risk without stronger laws, FTCR hired a professional skywriter to disclose the first five digits of Citigroup CEO Charles Princes' Social Security number over New York City. A photomontage of the first five digits of Prince's Social Security number is available for downloading at www.consumerwatchdog.org

"If federal law allows us to buy anyone's private information and skywrite it over Manhattan then clearly there will be no privacy in America without stronger state laws," said FTCR president Jamie Court, author of Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It (Putnam/Tarcher). "President Bush must realize that this is the Pearl Harbor of the people's war over privacy with big banks and he must put an end to a system that allows everyone's privacy to be sold and put in the sky for everyone to see. Americans will not take this lying down and bank C.E.O.s will have to wonder what they'll see in the skies next."

The federal legislation, S. 1753, 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.

"There can be no privacy for Americans if we do not limit affiliates' access to our information because large corporations today so broadly affiliate," said Flanagan. "Citigroup, for example, has more than 1600 affiliates who, under current federal law, cannot be stopped from trading individuals' private information, even when a consumer explicitly says no."

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) acknowledged that it had been able to legally purchase the Social Security numbers of Congressional and Bush Administration leaders on the Internet due to inadequate national privacy laws. The Social Security numbers purchased by the group include: Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the sponsor of the pending federal legislation, S-1753; Senator Sarbanes (D-MD), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee which approved the bill unanimously; House Speaker Hastert; and, those of John Ashcroft and C.I.A. Director George Tenet.

"Big banks know that the California privacy law will spread across the country like a wildfire because all consumers will demand the same privacy rights afforded to the world's fifth leading economy," said Flanagan. "That's why banks and their political cohorts are attempting an end-run around state privacy laws with this permanent ban."

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.

"This bill is worse than a band-aid on a heart attack because it codifies practices that have led to almost 10 million cases of identity theft each year," said Jamie Court.

Publisher's Weekly says Jamie Court's new book, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It (Tarcher/Putnam), is "keeping the muckraking tradition alive." "Corporateering" describes when large corporations prioritize their commercial gain over the individual's and society's.

Letter to President Bush:

November 5, 2003

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C.

RE: You Lied About Privacy, Now What?

President Bush,

While campaigning in 2000 you promised voters in the strongest and most explicit possible terms that you would protect our privacy if elected President. Those commitments do not square with your Administration's support of legislation to give banks free rein to share our information with thousands of corporate affiliates.

You will have the final word on this legislation. It's still not too late to keep your promises to the American people -- it is better to change course than to perpetuate a lie.

You 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).

However, S.1753 codifies the current widespread sharing of private financial information among thousands of corporate affiliates even when a consumer says no, putting every individuals' private information at great risk. Under the status quo maintained by S.1753 anyone can buy a consumer's private information including Social Security numbers, addresses, purchasing histories and more. To demonstrate the need for stronger privacy laws, FTCR purchased the Social Security numbers of your top advisers legally on the Internet for $26 each, including John Ashcroft's and George Tenet's

You said, "I will also make it a criminal offense to sell a person's Social Security number without his or her express consent" (Gore and Bush on Education, Trade and Other Issues, Seattle Times, Oct. 29, 2000).

There are no laws on the books and no provisions in S.1753 that criminalize the sale of Social Security numbers. Private information is ubiquitous on the Internet. In fact, S. 1753 wipes out state laws that might limit the sale of Social Security numbers and other private information.

You 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" (George Bush talks tech with ZDNet, ZDNet News, Jun. 20, 2000).

There can be no private world if we do not limit affiliates' access to private information because large corporations today so broadly affiliate. Citigroup, for example, has more than 1600 affiliates who, under current federal law, cannot be stopped from trading individuals' private information, even when a consumer explicitly says no.

You said, "Everyone has the right to know what information is collected and how it will be used, and to accept or decline the collection or dissemination of this information -- particularly financial and medical information" (PC World's 2000 Voting Guide).

Yet, S.1753 fails to address the heart of data collection and dissemination -- between a financial institution and it's affiliates.

You said, "I believe in "opt-in" privacy policies because we must protect medical, financial, and other sensitive personal information. Online profiling, especially the linking of online and offline databases, is a serious concern" (PC World's 2000 Voting Guide).

However, the pending federal bill will override a new California law that provides consumers an "opt-out" for sharing among affiliates -- an even less protective standard than the one you pledged your support to. S. 1753 will permanently remove state's rights to protect the privacy of consumers and codify the status quo that has failed to protect almost 10 million Americans who are victimized by identity theft each year.

You described yourself as a "privacy guy" who believes companies should ask customers' permission before disclosing our personal information.

You will have the final word on this legislation and if you do not protect the nation's privacy then your word is worthless.

Sincerely,

Jamie Court Jerry Flanagan
(310) 392-0522 ext. 327 (415) 633-1320

-End-

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy group. For more information, visit us on the web at www.consumerwatchdog.org or www.corporateering.org









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