Pretexting bill to be fast-tracked through Senate

Law would exempt FBI, local law enforcement from ban on using pretexting to obtain phone records. But further protections for consumers not included.

There are a lot of things Senate won't get to before the end of the 109th Congress, but if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has his way, the Senate will get to pass a bill making pretexting definitively illegal, reports.

Pretexting of course was the scheme used by HP investigators to get at phone records of board members and reporters as they looked into internal leaks. But it is also regularly used by law enforecment. Frist will use a procedural technique known as "hotlining," in which a bill already passed by the House would clear the Senate without debate and land on the president's desk. It could be approved as soon as Thursday.

The legislation says anyone who purchases, sells or tries to obtain confidential phone records could face up to a decade behind bars. Police and intelligence agencies, however, would be exempt. They would be permitted to continue to engage in pretexting themselves or to hire private investigators to do it for them--a common government practice.

Federal and local law enforcement officials are frequent customers of Internet-based pretexting services. Some companies, like Advanced Research, have admitted in letters to Congress that they did work for the FBI. But Republicans bottled up antipretexting legislation backed by Democrats that might have regulated government use of fraudulent means to access telephone records.

The bill stalled in the Senate earlier because some versions of the bill wanted telephone companies to take more responsibility for protecting customers' records, which was fought by cellphone companies.


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