Bush Signs Bill to Protect Private Phone Records in Wake of Hewlett-Packard Pretexting Scandal

President Bush on Friday signed a bill into law that would make it a crime to lie to obtain the telephone records of private citizens.

The legislation outlaws the practice of getting confidential phone records by "making false or fraudulent statements" to a phone company employee, by "obtaining false or fraudulent documents to access accounts" or by "accessing customer accounts through the Internet" without authorization -- a practice commonly known as pretexting.

Violators face fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. Fines are doubled and five years may be added to the prison term if the violations involve more than $100,000 or more than 50 customers.

The issue became big news late last summer following revelations that investigators working for executives at Hewlett-Packard Co. used deception to obtain phone numbers of board members and reporters in an effort to track down news leaks.

The investigation of Hewlett-Packard is still under way. In a regulatory filing recently released, the company said the Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a formal investigation of the spying scandal and that the Federal Communications Commission has requested documents.