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Senate Considers Bill to Outlaw 'Pretexting'

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

In business news, outlawing the practice of pretexting.

The Senate may act as early as today to outlaw the use of trickery to obtain people's telephone records without their consent. The practice known as pretexting came out of the shadows when contractors working for Hewlett Packard used it to spy on company board members and news reporters.

NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Former HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and four others, already face criminal charges in California over the spy scandal. But there's no federal law that explicitly bans pretexting. That may be about to change.

Privacy expert Chris Hoofnagle, of the UC-Berkeley Law School, says a measure passed by the House, and now before the Senate, would make it a crime to impersonate someone to obtain their personal phone records. The law applies, not only to the con artists who do the pretexting, but to the customers who hire them as well.

Mr. CHRIS HOOFNAGLE (Privacy Expert, UC-Berkeley Law School): The Hewlett Packard experience basically indicated that these practices were more mainstream than people thought. And it did provide a lot of motivation for legislators to crack down on the practice.

HORSLEY: Hoofnagle calls the measure a good start, but says it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't require phone companies to adopt any extra privacy protections, and it doesn't protect other sources of personal information, such as utility records or cable bills.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.