ACLU Applauds Senate Review of Identity Theft; Recent Data-Theft Scandals Highlight Need for Better Oversight

March 10, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A key Senate committee should be supported for examining identity theft and the security of sensitive information at a time when most private information of millions of Americans has become vulnerable to theft and abuse, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“Recent scandals involving data-collection agencies like ChoicePoint show how lax and ripe for abuse the current system really is,” said Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “By shining a spotlight on these scandals, Senators Shelby and Sarbanes are on the right track. The public must insist, and Congress must ensure, that our most private information is protected.”

The hearing by the Senate Banking, Housing and Transportation Committee was partly in reaction to the recent theft of private consumer information from ChoicePoint and Bank of America. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), one of the 1.3 million Americans whose personal information was stolen from Bank of America, is expected to testify before the committee.

Despite the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, identity theft is still a national problem. An estimated 10 million Americans are the victims of identity theft each year. Identity theft victims often spend considerable financial resources and months, if not years, restoring their credit records.

The ACLU said that any Congressional action must, at a minimum, address the lack of regulations for data aggregators and the untrammeled sale of personal information. Furthermore, without strict standards on private data, any potential criminal or terrorist could use the credit agencies to obtain new, “clean” identities.

“Data aggregation is becoming more and more commonplace,” Sparapani added. “If that base of information is stolen or manipulated, millions of Americans could be wrongfully denied loans, or, worse still, arrested for crimes they did not commit.”

In anticipation of the ongoing Congressional debate on the issue, the ACLU today released a “Questions and Answers” document on the recent ChoicePoint scandal. That document can be read at: /node/21085

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