It's deja vu for Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, two Democrats in the congressional delegation who witnessed how this state's ballot initiative system finally prodded California legislators to protect the privacy rights of consumers. The senators now must spread California's message to federal colleagues -- Americans are fed up with and want curbs on banks, insurers and telemarketers that swap and profit from their personal financial data.
This issue is coming to a head as Congress reviews the 33-year-old Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs the exploding business of collecting and evaluating consumer eligibility for credit. The act should be the first line of defense for consumers angered by burgeoning sales of their intimate financial and personal information. The federal law, however, doesn't really protect the easily abused data, coveted by both marketers and identity thieves.
Instead of bolstering the act, the bankers, insurers and securities dealers hope to use a periodic congressional review of the law to prevent California and other states from keeping or creating consumer privacy rules stricter than Uncle Sam's. Stronger, not weaker, regulation is needed because identity theft is rampant and total outstanding consumer credit has soared from $556 billion in 1970 to an estimated $7 trillion now.