Washington–Concerned by Congress’ increasing focus on data security and identity theft, insurance interests are seeking to stave off legislative proposals that would require companies to obtain consumers’ permission before sharing their personal data.

At a meeting in the Russell Senate office building last week, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents Insurance Technology Coalition (ITC) discussed the potential consequences that identity theft legislation might have for the insurance industry.

At the meeting, participants heard presentations from insurance and legislative experts on the possible ramifications of the identity theft legislative proposals.

“The ITC will be identifying aspects of legislative proposals that have a potential to have a negative impact on the insurance industry and insurance consumers,” said Ted Besesparis, a spokesman for the group, adding that “ITC will then seek to educate members of Congress and their staffs about them.”

Mr. Besesparis also noted that the meeting was more of a general strategy discussion. Although it did not address any specific legislative proposals, he said that the sort of proposals that would be opposed include:

oA provision prohibiting companies from requiring customers to provide their Social Security numbers and prohibiting firms from denying goods or services to consumers who decline to provide it.

oA provision that would federally mandate an “opt-in” (rather than an “opt-out”) standard for all companies, before consumers’ sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, drivers’ licenses, financial and health records are shared.

Among those making presentations were Scott Sinder, an attorney with the Washington-based law firm of Collier, Shannon & Scott, and Paul Martino, a former staff member for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who now works in the legislative and public policy group of the law firm of Alston & Bird.

Additionally, meeting participants heard from Dean Sagar, senior policy analyst for the minority staff of the House Financial Services Committee.

Identity theft is a hot button issue for the congress with bills being offered by several committees and some high profile lawmakers calling for federal action on the issue, including Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that panel’s ranking member, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Sens. Specter and Leahy introduced legislation last month requiring companies maintaining databases of personal information to establish policies to protect that information and notify consumers if there are any breaches of their security. Additionally, the bill would increase the penalties for identity theft activities.

The PIA noted that congressional staff and other legislative experts believe that some form of identity theft legislation will be passed this year.

Once the effects, intentional and unintentional, of legislative proposals are learned, the PIA and other insurance groups will be better equipped to deal with lawmakers and stave off potentially burdensome regulatory requirements before they become law, explained PIA National Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Len Brevik.

“There are a variety of proposals currently ‘in play’ on Capitol Hill, and our industry needs to be better informed about them–anticipating their effect, not just responding after legislation is passed and it’s too late,” he said.

Among those attending the meeting were Ray L. Peretti, national president-elect of the PIA, and representatives from ACORD, AIG Agency Auto, AMS Services, IVANS, MetLife Auto & Home, Ohio Casualty Insurance and Safeway Insurance Company.