Entertainment Groups Claim Pretexting Ban Will Hinder Piracy Probes

The RIAA and MPAA raise concerns over California's attempts to broaden the federal law.
California's proposed law to extend a federal ban on pretexting is receiving harsh criticism from various Hollywood entertainment groups that claim the legislation would "gut" their ability to investigate piracy.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was among several industry groups opposing the legislation Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pretexting. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Direct Marketing Association and the California Chamber of Commerce also oppose the bill, which would prohibit people from using false identities and other ruses to gain personal information.

"To be clear: RIAA never assumes the identity of a consumer or other individual to gain access to personal information about that customer or individual in the course of an investigation and we don't condone such activities," an RIAA spokesperson explained in an e-mail.

"Understandably, however, these individuals don't identify themselves as RIAA investigators when trying to buy counterfeit CD or gathering information on a pirate operation either. To do so, would obviously defeat the effort from the onset."

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) prohibits pretexting to gain personal financial information. Earlier this year, President George W. Bush signed a federal pretexting bill into law. That law --called Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 -- allows fined and imprisonment for fraudulently obtaining phone records.

Democratic Senator Ellen Corbett introduced Senate Bill 328, broadens prohibitions on the federal legislation and would prohibit people from using impersonation, fictitious or fraudulent statements and false representations to obtain personal information. The bill makes exceptions for law enforcement as well as companies investigating their own employees and for internal security purposes.

Businesses that engage prohibiting pretexting would be subject to civil litigation and customers would be entitled to $500 per violation, up to $3,000.

The RIAA is suggesting an amendment which would allow investigators to hide their identities through ruses, gain trust of those engaged in piracy and protect intellectual property rights.

The issue of pretexting gained national attention when Hewlett-Packard was accused of deceiving to obtain private records to find out which members of its board where leaking private company information to the media.