The Senate on Wednesday agreed to give Americans new weapons against identity theft, including access to credit scores, a free e-mailed copy of credit reports annually and one-call-for-all fraud reporting.
But the bill, approved by the Senate 95 to 2, also preempts tougher state privacy laws, such as those in California, that prevent businesses from sharing their customers' financial information with other companies, consumers groups complain.
Business owners say it helps the economy to have one national set of privacy laws rather than 50.
At issue are changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which created a national credit reporting standard to make it easier for people to get credit cards, loans and mortgages.
"I believe we have achieved the difficult objective of striking the proper balance between enhancing the rights of consumers and improving the efficient operation of our credit markets," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
The House passed its version by a 392-30 vote.
Reauthorizing the law, which expires at year's end, is a congressional priority. Members of both parties agree that the current national credit reporting system helps the economy by offering consumers quick credit.
Lawmakers also are pushing stronger protections against identity theft. The law also would give all Americans free credit reports annually from credit bureaus to help them understand credit scores.
The law also would stop states from setting separate rules on how businesses use, share and report data on consumers. That ban comes amid much consternation in states such as California, which has passed a tougher consumer privacy law.
The California statute requires most affiliated companies to give consumers notice of their intent to share their data for any purpose.