It is no exaggeration to say that the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, contains the most comprehensive federal privacy legislation in history. In the words of House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, the statute "provides the greatest consumer privacy protections of any legislation ever considered on (the House) floor."

The privacy title of the statute virtually rewrites the rules on information-sharing by financial institutions with nonaffiliated third parties. The title is noteworthy, however, not simply for how it will change the way institutions do business. It also reflects and will intensify the burgeoning trend toward privacy protection as a separate product characteristic on which consumers will shop for financial products and services and on which banks and other financial institutions will compete for customers.

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