The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is delaying release of privacy guidelines until January.

Instructions to national banks on safeguarding consumer privacy were originally expected last month but have been slowed down by congressional concerns.

Chief Counsel Julie L. Williams, who was acting comptroller until Tuesday's appointment of John D. Hawke Jr., assured lawmakers in a Dec. 3 letter that the new guidelines would be voluntary, not mandatory.

Reps. Bill McCollum, R-Fla.; Doug Bereuter, R-Neb.; and Richard H. Baker, R-La., had written Ms. Williams in October, expressing concern that any guidelines "may place new or increased burdens" on banks.

Ms. Williams got a similar letter in November from Sens. Connie Mack, R- Fla.; Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.; and Rod Grams, R-Minn.

The guidelines are expected to address how banks explain that customers may "opt out" of information-sharing among the bank's affiliates. Banks must give customers such an opportunity in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The guidance is also intended to spell out what banks should be telling customers about any information collected through Web sites

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