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The Federal Trade Commission was wrong in trying to force lawyers to send privacy disclosure notices to clients, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said Congress never intended to regulate the law profession when it passed the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that requires financial institutions to alert customers about possible disclosure of their personal information. In a stinging rebuke of the FTC, Judge David B. Sentelle wrote that the agency overstepped its authority. “When we examine a scheme of the length, detail and intricacy of the one before us, we find it difficult to believe that Congress … intended to undertake the regulation of the profession of law — a profession never before regulated by ‘federal functional regulators’ — and never mentioned in the statute,” Sentelle wrote. “To find this interpretation deference-worthy, we would have to conclude that Congress not only had hidden a rather large elephant in a rather obscure mousehole, but had buried the ambiguity in which the pachyderm lurks beneath an incredibly deep mound of specificity, none of which bears the footprints of the beast or any indication that Congress even suspected its presence,” the judge said. Sentelle was joined in the decision by Douglas Ginsburg, the circuit’s chief judge. John Roberts — now Chief Justice of the United States — was on the appeals court when the case was argued. But he did not take part in the decision. The lawsuit was brought by the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association, the nation’s largest lawyers organization. A. Vincent Buzard, president of the New York State Bar Association, said the FTC’s efforts would have led to confusion among lawyers’ clients who already believe that their confidences are kept under the attorney-client privilege. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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