Second Wind for Senators' Privacy Plan?

By Heller, Michele | American Banker, May 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Second Wind for Senators' Privacy Plan?


Heller, Michele, American Banker


Privacy legislation is a sleeping giant that could be revived by Democrats, who are poised to take control of the Senate and vault consumer advocate Sen. Paul Sarbanes to the helm of the Senate Banking Committee, a former Republican aide on the panel said Thursday.

"Privacy is the sleeper issue on this," said Lendell W. Porterfield, who until January worked for privacy hawk Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the second-ranking Republican on Senate Banking. "It's the one issue where Sarbanes and the Bush administration could have something in common."

As a result, "the banking industry will have to move to a more defensive position on privacy," said Mr. Porterfield, who left the committee to become vice president of the Washington lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates Inc.

Since coming to power, President Bush and his aides have been dropping increasingly strong hints that they aren't opposed to additional privacy laws and regulations, which Sen. Sarbanes, D-Md., has long advocated.

White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels was quoted in the online edition of BusinessWeek last week as saying that President Bush "is consistently underestimated ... in the intensity of his commitment and interest in personal privacy.

"Privacy will be a very important theme of this administration," Mr. Daniels was quoted as saying. "I want to make sure that, particularly in the regulatory area, we have an accountability, and we are alert to opportunities to extend privacy protections."

The administration surprised corporate America by establishing a privacy czar in the Justice Department, and by letting regulations that President Clinton issued in the waning days of his administration take effect to restrict the corporate sharing of medical information.

Sen. Sarbanes made his mark on privacy issues by authoring a key provision of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 that expressly lets states enact laws tougher than the federal statute.

As Senate Banking chairman, Mr. Porterfield said, Sen. Sarbanes would be able to schedule consideration of his "Financial Information Privacy Protection" bill, which would go beyond Gramm-Leach-Bliley by letting customers block financial companies from sharing their data with affiliates. …

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