Monday, December 26, 2005

Breach notification law debate continues in the US

Today's Los Angeles Times is running a lengthy article on the debate over federal legislative responses to security breach violations involving personal information. On on hand are organizations like EPIC and Consumers Union, which do not want the federal law to override stronger state laws and want to keep the threshold for notification low. On the other hand are banks and information brokers who want the federal law to preempt state laws and to only require notification if there is a "significant risk of fraud" using the compromised information. Othwise, it is argued, consumers will begin to ignore the flurry of notices they'll likely receive.

The article is also interesting because it sheds additional light on a study released this fall that suggested there is a low risk of fraud when information is compromised. I noted the study in this blog (The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Study on data breach fallout), and noted that there was nothing in the original about its methodologies. The LA Times articles suggests it was flawed and may not actually measure anything particularly useful:

Data Brokers Press for U.S. Law - Los Angeles Times:

"It's an area of policy in which legislation is driven by hysteria," Cate said. "There's just very little theft of data going on that is actually being used to commit identity theft."

Another study was announced this month by San Diego-based ID Analytics Inc., which described its findings in House testimony, to senators on two relevant committees and to the media. That generated news stories with such headlines as "ID Theft Fears Overblown, Study Says" and "Good News on ID Theft."

The firm earns money by helping banks figure out whether credit card applications might be fraudulent, and banks are among the institutions most actively opposed to new notification requirements.

The company said it studied four major losses of personal information, which it didn't identify or explicitly claim were representative, and found that less than one person in 1,000 was victimized by fraud as a result.

But ID Analytics looked only for what it called signs of "organized misuse" — for example, if a criminal gave himself away by using the same contact telephone number for two people whose information had been obtained in the same breach. In an interview, ID Analytics Vice President Mike Cook said he didn't know what proportion of fraud would leave that sort of fingerprint.

He also acknowledged that to be detected by the study, a criminal needed to seek credit or make a purchase from a client of ID Analytics — largely unnamed banks and cellular phone companies.

"If someone steals identities and created checks, passed bad checks at a supermarket, we probably wouldn't catch that," Cook said.

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