On November 17, 2009, eight federal regulatory agencies released their final model privacy notice form that is intended to make it easier for consumers to understand how financial institutions collect and share information about them. The model privacy notice form, which features a version that offers consumers an opt-out and one with no opt-out, represents the culmination of extensive research and testing by the various agencies, which included a nationwide mall-intercept study (see our previous post here), and their analysis of public comments on the model form first proposed on March 29, 2007. The agencies’ efforts in this regard were spurned by the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006, which amended the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (“GLBA”) and called upon the federal financial services agencies to jointly propose a succinct and comprehensible format for GLBA privacy notices.

The final model privacy notice form was developed jointly by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Trade Commission, National Credit Union Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Thrift Supervision, and Securities and Exchange Commission. It is hailed as a consumer-friendly notice that allows consumers to easily compare the privacy practices of different financial institutions. Financial institutions that choose to use the model form, which will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, will obtain a “safe harbor” that declares them in compliance with the GLBA’s disclosure requirements. Publication of the final model privacy notice in the Federal Register is expected soon.

With the release of the model form, despite opposition from major industry players, the agencies plan to eliminate the existing sample clauses and accompanying compliance safe harbors, which limited the liability of financial institutions that issued privacy notices containing these sample clauses. Existing safe harbors and sample clauses will be phased out over a one-year period.