House Democrats this week are renewing efforts to enact consumer privacy protections that the financial services industry opposes.
Rep. Jay Inslee on Tuesday introduced the Banking Privacy Act of 1999, which would let consumers block banks from sharing personal information with affiliates or selling it to third parties.
Under the Washington Democrat's plan, banks would have to explain to customers how their data would be used and give them the right to "opt out" within 30 days.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., plans to propose a tougher requirement Thursday when House Commerce's finance subcommittee votes on financial reform legislation.
Customers of banks, insurance companies, and securities firms would have to give permission-or "opt in"-before information could be disclosed to outside entities. Financial companies could share personal data among affiliates as long as customers may opt out, a Markey spokesman said.
Other committee members are expected to offer softer alternatives that could range from broader disclosure requirements to opt-out measures.
But industry officials said any of these proposals could raise consumer prices or even end popular services, such as granting frequent-flier miles to credit card users. It could also slow loan approvals, they warned.
"The problem with the privacy bills that are being introduced is they can have clearly unintended consequences," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. Industry lobbyists are urging lawmakers to postpone action and hold detailed hearings on privacy later in the year.
The Senate is already taking this more deliberate course. It included modest privacy protections in the financial reform bill adopted this month, and a Senate Banking Committee hearing on June 9 will feature lawmakers testifying on broader privacy proposals.
But privacy advocates want fast action.
Tougher protections are needed if financial reform is enacted, Rep. Inslee argued, because it would promote cross-marketing by removing restrictions on mergers among banks, insurance companies, and securities firms. For instance, he said, a bank could tip off a sister stock broker if a consumer's balances swell.
In particular, he wants to close the current "loophole" in the law that lets banks-without any say by consumers-share details of checking transactions, account balances, and other transactional data with affiliates or outside parties.
Rep. Inslee unsuccessfully tried to tack a similar measure to the financial reform bill that was approved in March by the House Banking Committee. Despite his objections, the committee adopted a watered-down provision that would require banks to disclose their privacy policies to customers and keep medical information confidential.