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California: The Harbinger Of Identify Theft Disasters

April 15, 2005

There's a great opinion piece in the New York Times today. Editors of the Times point out that were it not for California's law requiring that customers who have their personal information stolen be notified (California is the ONLY STATE IN THE UNION with such a law), no one would have ever known about the stolen data disasters at LexisNexis and ChoicePoint.

The writer calls the California law and the consumers that benefit from it, the "canary in the data mines," a great analogy.

Despite identify theft becoming rampant and producing an estimated $50 billion per year in losses, Federal legislation has been lagging. Keep your fingers crossed Senators Feinstein and Nelson are successful in their endeavors.


Identity Thieves' Secret Weapon

Published: April 15, 2005

But for a single innovative law in California, the nation's consumers might not even be hearing some of the more outrageous news about mass heists of supposedly secure computer information from reputedly trustworthy sources: LexisNexis gently announces about 32,000 suspected thefts of identity data, which soon balloon to 310,000. ChoicePoint, a data broker and credit reporting agency with access to 19 billion records, lets 145,000 consumers know their personal data may have been stolen.

These are among hundreds of thousands of warnings to vulnerable Americans surfacing mainly because California has a law requiring that consumers be notified when their personal data are pilfered. There is no such federal law, even though identity theft produces $50 billion a year in personal and business losses. As California's consumers play the canary in the data mines, consumer and law enforcement organizations are putting pressure on loosely regulated data brokers to let the rest of us in on their failures. But this is hardly the way to safeguard the American consumer.

Recent Senate hearings show that no one really knows how deeply hackers and in-house thieves are tapping into our personal records. There was the purloining of Ford Motor Credit reports on 30,000 consumers so street thieves could empty bank accounts and run up purchases. Computer backup tapes were lost at the Bank of America with the Social Security numbers and other vital data of 1.2 million federal workers.

Worthy proposals, starting with upfront, nationwide notification of security breaches, are being offered by senators from some of the most victimized states: Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida and Charles Schumer of New York. The nation also needs tight regulation of the security and business practices of data brokers and credit agencies, and a ban on the easy access and sale of Social Security numbers without individual consent. Consumers, not data dealers, deserve controlling interest in their vital information.

Indifferent lawmakers cannot say they have not been warned.

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