September 13, 2004
A suit making its way through the court system seeks to overturn a California law that provides strong privacy rights to consumers. Banks and other financial services companies are suing to invalidate a 2003 law, the California Financial Information Privacy Act, commonly known as "SB1."

The bankers' association argues that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act supercedes the California protections. However, a coalition of consumer and civil liberties groups representing 41 million individuals, has filed a brief in support of the law, saying it protects against identity theft and fraud.

SB1 is considered by many to provide the strongest financial privacy protection in the U.S. It allows customers to "opt-out" of information-sharing practices between affiliated institutions, companies that have common ownership. SB 1 also bars financial institutions from sharing information about consumers with nonaffiliated third parties unless an individual gives his or her express "opt in" consent.

In April 2004, the American Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Consumer Bankers Association filed suit arguing that SB 1 conflicts with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As interpreted by the banking industry, the FCRA imposes a preemptive ceiling on state privacy statutes, thereby preventing any state or local regulation concerning affiliate sharing of consumer information.

A judge has already ruled otherwise, saying federal legislation expressly allows states to erect stronger financial privacy protections. In late July the banking institutions appealed, with the case now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.