The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would make it a federal felony offense to obtain or disclose people's phone records without their consent.
The so-called pretexting bill passed by unanimous consent Friday. The legislation aims to stop individuals and companies from lying, impersonating, or breaking into computerized accounts to obtain the information, which is normally only available to customers, carriers, and law enforcement officers.
It allows courts to impose fines and imprison offenders for up to 10 years -- or more if the offender uses the information for other crimes, such as stalking. The legislation provides exemptions for police, emergency services, and carriers.
The Senate last week passed a version that sailed through the House of Representatives in April. Months after the bill passed the House, Hewlett-Packard revealed that investigators acting on its behalf had used questionable tactics to obtain phone records in an attempt to identify the source of media leaks from its board of directors.
Though members of Congress and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said it was clearly illegal to deceive to obtain phone records, some lawmakers said the legal language was unclear. That will no longer be the case if President Bush signs the bill into law.
Former HP board chairwoman Patricia Dunn, former counsel Kevin Hunsaker, and three investigators face felony charges accusing them of crimes associated with pretexting. They are being prosecuted under California state laws. The five defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Fifteen states passed laws in 2006 to punish the purchase or sale of telephone call records, according to a Privacy Journal supplement to its compilation of state and federal laws. The states enacted the laws before HP revealed that its investigators had obtained detailed billing records during the investigation into board leaks, according to the publication.