REPS. BIGGERT/MALONEY INTRODUCE LEGISLATION ELIMINATING DUPLICATIVE PRIVACY FILINGS FOR LAWYERS
"I rise today in support of legislation that I am introducing with my colleague Judy Biggert of Illinois, the Judicial Code of Conduct Privacy Clarification Act. This legislation resolves the continuing controversy as to whether attorneys at law, who are subject to strict codes of professional conduct, should be subject to the privacy section of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The Biggert-Maloney legislation recognizes that the practice of law and the business of financial services are wholly different and that Gramm-Leach-Bliley should be clarified to recognize this distinction.
"Protecting personal privacy should be one of the highest priorities of Congress. Whether online, over the phone or in person, I believe that individuals should be allowed the maximum control over information they supply to financial services and other companies.
"With passage of Gramm-Leach-Bliley in 1999, Congress took a small first step in ensuring that consumer privacy is protected as financial institutions continue to merge and as the economy grows increasingly digital. As a member of the then-Banking Committee, I was proud to play a role in requiring that financial services companies supply their customers with privacy policies and allow customers the right to opt-out of information sharing with third-parties. These were groundbreaking provisions that future Congresses should work to expand.
"Unfortunately, since enactment, Gramm-Leach-Bliley has caused significant confusion for the legal community. On February 11, 2002, I joined 12 of my bipartisan colleagues on the Financial Services Committee in writing to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ask that it grant attorneys an exemption to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley privacy provisions. As we wrote at the time, "Attorneys are already bound by a duty of confidentiality, enforceable under the laws of all 50 states, that prevents misuse of client information and provides a higher degree of privacy protection than Gramm-Leach-Bliley." After a thorough review, the FTC determined that it does not presently have the authority to grant the exemption we requested.
"The privacy protections in Title V of Gramm-Leach-Bliley were a response to specific cases where consumers' private, personal financial information was mined without their consent in an effort to market them products. Where Title V is an appropriate response to such egregious cases, it is inappropriate to apply it to most lawyers whose clients already expect that all their disclosures are confidential, covered by state codes of ethics and attorney-client privilege.
"For example, the Legal Aid Society of New York City had to translate its privacy notice into many different languages to serve its ethnically diverse clientele. It also had to devote an inordinate amount of time to dealing with confused clients who couldn't understand why they were getting privacy notices from their lawyers when everything they tell their lawyers is presumed to be confidential. I fear this could have a chilling effect on the willingness of these individuals to share critical information with their attorneys. The confusion these privacy notices are causing in New York is unnecessary given that there is express language forbidding the sharing of client information in the New York state ethics code for lawyers.
"I join Rep. Biggert in introducing this legislation today because it is my intention to target this limited area where the interpretation of Gramm-Leach-Bliley can be improved by a legislative fix. The FTC's standing interpretation of Title V of the Act is causing confusion that is detrimental to the attorney-client relationship. It is appropriate for Congress to intervene. I have met with numerous constituents from New York City on this issue and am convinced that attorneys should not fall under the existing language. I do understand that it is late in the Congressional session and I invite interested parties to work with me to improve the legislation in the coming year.
"I look forward to continuing to work to safeguard the privacy of my constituents in the coming Congress. I emphatically do not support any rollback of the progress that has been made on privacy. This legislation is limited and strictly targeted. As for the larger privacy issues - the American public deserves more privacy protections, not fewer."