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Laws Need Upgrades—Just Like Software

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One day I was at a bank and staring at a framed abstract of the old 'Truth in Lending Act,' the one that all banks are required to display on their premises.

It was a good law but seems so quaint today. In this new millennium when software needs an upgrade patche every month, a cell phone is considered old after a year. Even refrigerators and cars are replaced after five. So why hasn’t legislation been updated?

Certainly new laws are being crafted and some will supersede older ones. But are we so fascinated with the new and surprising that we fail to properly appreciate the value of those tested by time? Let’s take a quick look at two good, old laws.

The Truth in Lending Act of 1963

Modern commerce and finance have come up with several new mechanisms that are not covered by the old law, now nearly half a century old. These mechanisms often bind a client or subscriber to pay certain amounts over a period of time. Many such new and emerging practices may be legal, but are they transparent and fair?

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court ruled that certain credit card company practices may be in accordance with law yet contrary to morals. This highlights the need to revisit and update the law in order to circumscribe predatory lending practices that may result in a form of debt slavery, an institution the civilized world thought it had abolished 200 years ago.

There have been some updates, such as an 'Access Devices Regulation Act' that primarily applies to credit cards. However, the disclosure requirements apply only at the time of application and there are many exceptions.

For the most part, this law is intended to benefit the credit card issuer and protect against fraud. But what is really needed is clear disclosure of all charges, penalties, fees, and other important details—from the very beginning AND, periodically, on the monthly statements.

Further, there are other modern traps for the unwary tech consumer. Installment purchases are an obvious one. Far more pernicious are telco/ISP lock-in schemes, which are imposed when you sign up for a service or get a 'free' gadget.

Here, there should be a clear statement in the original application form stating the monthly cost and term of the lock-in period. Subsequently, each monthly statement should print an update stating the original lock-in terms, the months and amounts already paid for and the amounts still due.

The Anti-Wiretapping Act of 1965

Even during bygone days of sailing ships and horse carriages, there were laws protecting the privacy of postal mail. In today’s Age of Information, a law protecting communications privacy is even more crucial.
Sadly, not only has wiretapping become technically easier and more rampant, but recent legislation has even weakened the protection afforded privacy under the Constitution.

Some attention was drawn to this law at the height of the 'Hello, Garci' scandal. But, beyond specific political issues, there is a real need to continuously monitor and defend our civil liberties lest we wake up one day and find that we’ve lost our freedom.

A 'Data Protection' bill has recently been filed in the Senate. This draft legislation is sometimes referred to as a 'privacy' bill. But, as currently written, the draft is no such thing.

Instead, the bill is primarily meant to secure data used by business process outsourcing (e.g., call center) firms. All well and good. We need to assure other countries that we can handle their citizens’ data securely. But while we’re protecting foreign data, who will speak and act for the protection of our own citizens’ privacy?

When it comes to data and privacy matters, it’s not just the government we should be worried about.
ISPs, telcos, and other companies now have access to much of our personal data. Have you ever given out calling cards at a conference or event, only to find spam e-mail in your inbox later?

How about subscribing to one service and getting junk mail, calls, or text messages offering a related service? The point here is that companies should not be allowed to re-purpose data for their marketing campaigns.

Nor should anyone be allowed to sell our data (e.g., mailing or contact lists) to others. Since ISPs are now allowed to monitor our Internet usage, these problems will only get much worse if not addressed in time.

There are other old laws that need to be reviewed. For the National Internal Revenue Code, perhaps a ground-up reconstruction rather than just a quick renovation is required. This would be a huge project in and of itself and not something to be undertaken lightly.

In the meantime, I’m hoping our legislators will see that there are important laws that critically need updating, without need of a controversy to draw their attention away from less important matters.

Truth In Lending Act of 1963 (RA. 3765)
Anti-Wiretapping Act of 1965 (R.A. 4200)

Print ed: 11/10


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