Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=100039
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 3:36:02 PM CST
During 2007, the No. 1 complaint of consumers to the Federal Trade Commission was identity theft.
Every time consumers make a transaction, data is collected that can fall into the hands of criminals, whether it is through dumpster diving or sophisticated cyber crimes. For example, earlier this year, indictments were brought against 11 people after an investigation by the Justice Department and the Secret Service found that they had stolen over 40 million credit card and debit card numbers.
However, dealing with identity theft for consumers remains difficult given the legal climate.
“The law has really lagged behind the developments of technology,” said Philip Friedman, an expert on consumer protection law.
According to Friedman the laws don’t provide enough financial incentive for companies to secure data. As a result, it becomes easier to deal with paying fines after security breaches rather than solving the problem upfront.
Data security expert Bruce Schneier said one of the ways to improve computer security is through investment in research.
“A lot of these computer security problems are very hard and require research that might not pay off in the next few years,” he said.
Enter CAIMR, the Center for Applied Identity Management Research, a new public-private partnership with a focus on research into problems of identity management. CAIMR will research effective techniques for solving the problem of making an authentic identification, while also protecting the data which is used to identify.
One goal of the research will be to help consumers do a better job of helping themselves.
“Consumers are investing in security technologies that might be totally ineffective,” said Anne Wallace, president of the Identity Theft Assistance Center. “How many shredders have been sold over the last couple of years? Research will have a big impact on consumer risk management techniques.”
Jack Hermansen, the chief technology officer in IBM’s Global Name Recognition Group, said his goal with the group is “replacing the fear and folklore of identity management with facts.”
Using the facts, the hope of the CAIMR center is that new technologies and techniques will be developed to help secure consumer identity and instill faith in transactions.
Still Friedman stressed that a stronger legal remedy for any breaches has to be provided by the government.
“If [companies] know they will be hit with a multi-million dollar judgment because some employee has left a laptop on a counter, they are going to take serious efforts to make sure that they have systems in place that are going to prevent that,” he said.
WASHINGTON – Since Sept. 11, the government has scrutinized consumer data more closely to identity patterns and to prevent future terrorist attacks – information as simple as picking up a prescription or applying for a credit card.
Critics of the intelligence process say that the authority given under the Patriot Act is too broad to protect the privacy rights of the consumers.
While both Barack Obama and John McCain have posted positions on intelligence gathering reform, neither candidate has said what specific parts of the Patriot Act that they would change to protect the privacy of Americans.
According to Philip Friedman, an expert in consumer protection law, the answer might be not much.
“When those that are in power see the power that they have, they tend to not want to relinquish it,” Friedman said.
Data Security expert Bruce Schneier agreed that changes in any Patriot Act policies might be difficult.
“Law enforcement would lobby very hard to keep any powers they’ve gotten,” he said.
The Obama campaign has vowed to revisit the Patriot Act, citing the alleged abuses of the Bush administration. An Obama presidency would ensure that “real and robust oversight tools” are present in the law. The campaign also said that Sen. Obama would extend oversight to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which covers wiretapping.
Sen. McCain’s campaign also calls for a change in the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security. But the only change he proposes is a “comprehensive reform of our intelligence gathering efforts,” again without specifics.
A report released Tuesday by the National Research Council has called for more transparency and outside review of the government in its intelligence gathering efforts.
The report, co-authored by William Perry, the secretary of defense under former President Clinton, suggests a series of questions to be asked about each intelligence program, both when it commences and as it goes forward. Questions are designed to ensure that any program has both a specific purpose and still falls under U.S. law.
The framework provided by the questions could help to avoid intelligence gaffes such as those uncovered by a Justice Department internal audit last year.
The Justice audit cited multiple cases investigated by U.S. Attorneys and the FBI designated as terrorism-related but where no documentation of the link to terrorism activities existed.
Despite public distrust caused by these errors, changing the tide within the government could still prove difficult.
“There has been a sort of dialing back of what would be a reasonable response to terrorism, and I don’t believe the Patriot Act would pass today,” said Schneier.
While Schneier said that he thinks both candidates would work to reverse some of “the more egregious positions” given the public sentiment, he is less optimistic about the prospects of improving American privacy aspects in full.
Schneier said an abuse of power on a level similar to the devastation of Sept. 11 would have to occur to remove the Patriot Act.
“So, I’m afraid we are stuck with a lot of it,” he said.