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Call for Privacy, Call a Lot

June 20, 2003

Nine members of the Assembly Banking Committee obviously think that telemarketers don't call you often enough at dinnertime. Clearly these legislators also believe that homeowners need more mortgage refinance offers in their mailboxes, more "pre-approved" Visa cards and more "free" vacation offers. What else could explain the failure of these lawmakers to support state Sen. Jackie Speier's reasonable privacy bill?

Ninety percent of Californians polled -- including many of the folks these lawmakers allegedly represent -- say they're beyond fed up with the information free-for-all that lets strangers buy and sell their personal data, including income, phone numbers, medical records and spending habits. And this deluge is the least of the problem. Californians are ripe targets for identity theft, a problem that Speier's SB 1 won't completely cure. But it would be a start.

The Burlingame Democrat's legislation would require consumers to give explicit, written approval before their personal financial information could be sold or shared by banks, credit card companies or insurers with telemarketers or other third-party businesses.

Speier's bill is her third go-round on privacy legislation, and as of last week she thought this reasonable measure might succeed. That was before banking industry executives, credit card hawkers, telemarketing bosses and their lobbyists went into high gear, spending yet more millions to defeat it. On Tuesday, only three committee members voted to approve Speier's bill.

This is one victory the bill's opponents may soon regret. The committee could decide Monday to reconsider the measure; if that happens, another vote on the bill could happen.

If the bill dies, the corporations and lobbyists that killed it can look forward to spending millions more to try to defeat the ballot initiative that inevitably would follow. That initiative -- already within striking distance of the March 2004 ballot -- is more rigid and sweeping, and business would like it even less. And it would pass, despite opponents' sure-to-be lavish spending.

Maybe the four lawmakers who voted against SB 1 and the five who didn't even show up for Tuesday's committee vote are so out of touch that they need a taste of what the rest of us get every day.

Call them and tell them to vote yes next time. Call them a lot.

To Take Action: Voting no on SB 1 were Russ Bogh (R-Cherry Valley), (916) 319-2065; Ron S. Calderon (D-Montebello), (916) 319-2058; Guy Houston (R-Livermore), (916) 319-2015; and Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark), (916) 319-2037. "No shows" for the vote were Edward "Ed" Chavez (D-La Puente), (916) 319-2057; Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), (916) 319-2069; Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City), (916) 319 2004; Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando), (916) 319-2039; and Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), (916) 319-2079.

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