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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, March 14, 2006
CONTACT: Leah Mohr, (605) 773-3201

New law protects private phone records

PIERRE, S.D. – A new law spearheaded by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission will make it a crime to falsely obtain, buy or sell confidential telephone records.

In recent months, a number of Web sites have popped up selling consumer phone records for as little as $100 by "pretexting" phone records. Pretexting is when an individual contacts a telecommunications provider and uses false pretense, such as pretending to be a customer, in an effort to gain access to customers' private and confidential information. 

"These thieves are endangering people's lives and accessing consumers' private financial information," said PUC Chairman Bob Sahr. "It's particularly disturbing that victims of domestic violence and law enforcement officials are often targets. Our state's consumers deserve this protection."

 "South Dakota is among the first in the nation to put a law on the books that defines this activity as criminal," said PUC Vice Chairman Dustin Johnson. "It speaks volumes that our legislature and governor quickly recognized this issue as one that should be dealt with aggressively," he said.

Other states, including California and Georgia, are currently debating the issue during their legislative sessions. Federal lawmakers are considering legislation as well. In early March, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved the Law Enforcement and Phone Privacy Protection Act of 2006 which would provide penalties for fraudulent acquisition of phone records.

"This legislation not only serves some of our citizens, it also protects the integrity of our entire state," said Commissioner Gary Hanson. "There's a clear message that South Dakota will not tolerate persons who use technology to defraud or abuse our citizens," he emphasized.

Individuals who obtain private records from a telecommunications company without the customer's consent will be in violation of the law and may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which has a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Individuals who sell confidential information gained without the consumer's approval may be guilty of a Class 6 felony, which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

The legislation had the full support of the State Senate and the House of Representatives. The new law goes into effect July 1, 2006.