I had the opportunity today to participate in a press teleconference sponsored by the Coalition Against Organized Retail Crime as a preview to hearing before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on the federal response to ORC.
There are currently three bills under consideration in Congress in regards to ORC:
E-Fencing Enforcement Act of 2009, H.R. 1166
Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009, H.R. 1173
Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009, S. 470
Congressman Brad Ellsworth, who co-sponsored the Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 said that this legislation will provide the tools for retailers and law enforcement to fight ORC and will place higher penalties on people convicted of such theft.
But that's just the beginning of it. Where it starts to get contentious is during discussions of the e-fencing bill, which "will require online merchants to maintain contact information such as name, phone and physical address for three years -- that's less information than pawn shops require," said Congressman Ellsworth. He went on to say that requiring this information from those reselling goods online is not intrusive and will help law enforcement and retailers to "remove the cloak of anonymity to preserve the online marketplace."
"We feel that the federal legislation proposed will take the first step towards transparency," said Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection advisor for the National Retail Federation. He said it would be similar to what's being done on eBay’s U.K. site, which requires power sellers to post their physical address so consumers can see who they're doing business with (which, by the way, I have not confirmed yet).
Well, not surprisingly, eBay is not psyched to be singled out like this. Soon after I got off the conference call, I received a phone call from Paul Jones, director of retail partnerships with eBay. "[This legislation] is discriminatory towards one type of business model and I would encourage anyone who supports the legislation to read it and they will find that it singles out eBay opposed to any online marketplace or crime enterprise," Jones said. Not only does he say that it's unfair to point at eBay specifically, but he maintains that eBay goes above and beyond to provide law enforcement and retailers the opportunity to surf its site for potential stolen goods. "We're the only site that allows retailers and third-party companies to deploy software to mine our site to look for trends that find bad actors," he said. According to Jones, retailers could target sellers who are selling a large amount of sunglasses or other merchandise that might have been potentially stolen.
Jones said while eBay supports legislation to combat ORC and the institution of stiffer penalties for those convicted, he said requiring power sellers to disclose private information is actually a security concern. He said for those selling expensive merchandise, for example, disclosing where you live may be putting yourself in danger.
Also, Jones said that it doesn't need to post such information because he says eBay already gives law enforcement access. "We allow law enforcement 24-hour access to our IP system to find leads online and they can actually surf our site and get seller information without a warrant," he said. "We spend a considerable amount of time training law enforcement and loss prevention professions about how to use our site and the tools on our site to do their own checks and balancing."
Just as a disclaimer on my part, I have not been able to confirm how much access eBay allows law enforcement agencies about its sellers, but it's a heated subject, that's for certain. If you care to watch tomorrow's hearing, follow this link. I'll be watching.