On March 21, 2007, eight federal regulatory agencies (“Joint Agencies”) with jurisdiction over Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (“GLBA”) regulated “financial institutions” issued an interagency proposal for a new model privacy form. The proposal is the result of a lengthy process the Joint Agencies began in 2001 to improve the format of GLBA privacy notices to make them more comprehensible to consumers. In addition to a lack of clarity, the Joint Agencies and consumer and privacy advocates have been concerned about the length of notices and the overuse of legal terms.

Section 503 of the GLBA, 15 U.S.C. § 1603 and current rules, require financial institutions to provide their customers with a notice that describes, among other things, how they protect nonpublic personal information, the categories of nonpublic personal information collected, the affiliates and the nonaffiliated third parties to whom such information is disclosed, and a description of the customer’s right to prevent certain disclosures to nonaffiliated third parties. These notices must be provided at the outset of the institution’s relationship with a customer and, in the case of long-standing relationships, on an annual basis. Current rules do not mandate a standard format or particular wording for the notices, however, they provide sample clauses that financial institutions can use to satisfy the notice requirements.

While the Joint Agencies had deferred policy action in the midst of studying how to improve privacy notices, on October 13, 2006, President Bush signed the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 (“Regulatory Relief Act”). Section 728 of the Regulatory Relief Act amended Section 503 of the GLBA (15 U.S.C. § 1603) to require the Joint Regulators to propose a model form by April 11, 2007. Although financial institutions will not be required to use the model form, the Regulatory Relief Act includes a safe harbor that deems any financial institution using the form to be in compliance with the Section 503 disclosures.

The model form is largely based on a report issued by the Kleimann Communications Group in March 2006. The proposed model form would be 2-3 pages, depending on whether there is an opt-out. The first page would include general background information and a keyframe with why, what and how information regarding a financial institution’s use of personal information, reasons for sharing, and opt-out rights. The second page includes supplementary information such as definitions and further explanatory information in the form of Frequently Asked Questions. The final page includes an opt-out form for those financial institutions that share information in a manner that triggers consumer opt-out rights. The proposed rules would require a minimum font size and that financial institutions provide sufficient spacing between lines of type with further recommendations on font type, spacing, paper size and color. One year after enactment of the model proposal, financial institutions will lose any safe harbor from using the sample clauses in the current rules for their notices.

Comments on the proposal will be due 60 days from publication in the federal register, which is expected later in March. The Joint Agencies are seeking comment on the content of the model form, including whether modifications to the opt-out are necessary and whether financial institutions intend to incorporate the Fair Credit Reporting Act opt-out for affiliate marketing into the form, the format of the form, and other issues such as the likelihood financial institutions will use the form and issues regarding some financial institutions’ requirement that consumers provide their social security numbers to opt-out. Interested parties need only submit comments to one of the Joint Agencies.

The Joint Agencies include the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Treasury; Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Office of Thrift Supervision, Treasury; National Credit Union Administration; Federal Trade Commission; Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and the Securities and Exchange Commission.