Identity-Theft Bill Poses Threat to PIs; Legislation Would Bar Investigators from Accessing Information
Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Some members of Congress are acknowledging that private investigators could be hurt by proposed legislation to curb identity theft.
Others say they are not concerned about the effect on private investigators, despite the industry's warnings about a disaster for the legal system.
Congress has not addressed the role of private investigators in the half-dozen identity-theft bills proposed this session or planned for introduction soon.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, said a solution could be to exempt licensed investigators from some restrictions on access to consumer information.
"The balance is how much information do we give to private investigators," said Mr. Stearns, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee. "That's a legitimate question."
Private investigators say new restrictions to prevent identity theft interfere with their ability to conduct background checks and locate witnesses in court cases and heirs to estates.
The new and proposed restrictions limit private investigators' access to Social Security numbers, driver's licenses and dates of birth.
Other members of Congress oppose any exemption for private investigators.
"Anyone who scans the Internet looking for Social Security numbers, unlisted phone numbers or other sensitive personal information will immediately turn up a number of Web sites that appear to be affiliated with private investigators," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. "These firms are selling the privacy of American families and they should not be exempted from any identity-theft legislation."
The investigators say anyone seeking a court judgment could be hurt.
"If I can't locate a key witness, then criminal defendants are not going to get due process and a fair trial. The same holds true for civil litigation issues," said Brian McGuinness, president of the National Council of Investigation and Security Services. …