North Dakotans Vote to Tighten Privacy for Bank Customers
By Dale Wetzel Associated Press Writer

BISMARCK, N.D.  (AP) - North Dakota residents voted overwhelmingly to
repeal a state law that let banks sell customer information without written
permission.  The vote may portend a move toward stricter financial privacy
laws elsewhere, advocates said Wednesday.

"Politically, this is a shot that is going to be heard around the world,"
said Evan Hendricks, publisher of Privacy Times, a Washington, D.C.,

The state law was patterned after a federal financial privacy measure,
approved by Congress three years ago.  Tuesday's vote was the first time
voters in any state have rendered a judgment on financial privacy.

North Dakota had required express written permission until last year, when
the new law was passed, still requiring financial institutions to notify
customers if they planned to sell information, but leaving it up to the
customers to object if they didn't want the information released.

After the repeal movement started, financial interests spent more than
$135,000 promoting the law and running ads implying that a vote to repeal
would mean economic isolation for a rural state that already has problems
creating jobs.

The banks and credit unions had argued that the law was needed to promote
financial services jobs and said they weren't selling customer information
to outside companies.  But proponents of repealing the law said the banks
must have wanted to profit from the information or they wouldn't have
pushed so hard.

Unofficial vote totals Wednesday showed 86,688 voters, or 73 percent,
favored repealing the North Dakota law, while 27 percent, or 31,471 voters,
supported keeping it.

Gov.  John Hoeven, a former banker who opposed repealing the law, said
state officials will have to measure the vote's impact.

"The people have spoken, and I absolutely respect their decision," Hoeven
"From a regulatory standpoint, it is just something we will have to deal

Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an organization
based in San Diego, said the effects of the North Dakota vote could ripple
to other states and Congress.

"It sends an encouraging message to other citizen organizers and consumer
advocates around the country, now that the people of North Dakota have so
resoundingly spoken their mind," she said.

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