Monday, February 28, 2005

Hearings set as congressional concern grows over identity theft

While committee hearings don't guarantee action, I will be very interested to see what is said during hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the topic of identity theft and data aggregators. Such a hearing is being hastily scheduled, according to Cox News Services:

Hearings set as congressional concern grows over identity theft:

"WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on identity theft and data brokers, its chairman announced Thursday.

The announcement reflected mounting concern in Congress over revelations that criminals were able to buy personal information on hundreds of thousands of individuals from ChoicePoint, an Alpharetta, Ga., consumer data company.

Senate Democrats, including Charles Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, are pushing for legislation to tighten access to such data and have called for hearings.

'I got a letter from Senator Leahy yesterday on the identity theft issue, and I immediately said we can hold a hearing,' Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said at a news conference. A date for the hearing has not been set.

Specter's comments came just before Schumer announced that he is urging Westlaw, a Minnesota research company, to close an 'egregious loophole' on its Web site that could let anyone buy an individual's Social Security number and other personal information.

In a letter to Westlaw, Schumer urged the company to 'immediately suspend' its service, People-Find(cq), which provides subscribers with personal information about millions of individuals over the Internet.

'Westlaw's People-Find service might as well be the first chapter of 'Identity Theft for Dummies,'' said Schumer. 'Criminals no longer need to forage through dumpsters for discarded bills. They just need to send Westlaw a check and they're in business.'

As an example, Schumer said his staff was able use People-Find to obtain the Social Security numbers of Vice President Dick Cheney and celebrities Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt and Paris Hilton.

Schumer said he knew of no case in which Westlaw's service had been used to illegally obtain a person's personal data.

The senator said he would introduce legislation to establish federal rules limiting who can provide or sell access to private information.

Thomson West, which operates the Westlaw online legal research service, said in a statement, "We share Senator Schumer's serious concerns about identity theft. We have been working with his office on this issue, communicated our mutual concerns, and provided information on our strict policies regarding access to Social Security numbers."

The company said its under its policies, sensitive public information is limited to "a very limited number of specialized customers, such as legislative, regulatory and government agencies."

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