ID theft task force recommends stronger laws

National law-enforcement effort, less SSN use recommended

The U.S. government plans to establish a national identity theft law enforcement center and create a multiyear public education campaign about the dangers of ID theft, as part of a series of recommendations released by a task force Monday.

The President's Identity Theft Task Force, created by George Bush in May 2006, also called for national data protection standards for private companies that collect and sell personal information, as well as a national law requiring companies to tell customers when their personal data has been compromised.

Federal agencies should stop the unnecessary use of Social Security numbers, and the federal government should step up its efforts to educate agencies about data security best practices and regulations in place, the task force recommended.

ID theft is a "personal invasion, done in secret, that can rob innocent men and women of their good names," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a press conference. Gonzales, co-chairman of the task force, called ID theft a national security issue.

The task force recommendations target both private companies and federal agencies. Recent news reports of data breaches at federal agencies are "problematic," Gonzales said.

Congress debated several data breach notification bills but failed to pass them during its last session. Five data breach notification bills have been introduced this year.

The task force report, available at the new Web site, includes 31 recommendations.

A comprehensive approach is needed to combat ID theft, said Deborah Platt Majoras, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and co-chairwoman of the ID theft task force.

"It is a blight on America's privacy and security landscape," she said. "It erodes a critical element of our economy -- trust in a person's good name and credit."

In addition to recommendations targeting federal agencies and private companies, the task force report targets criminals. The report focuses on the "entire life cycle" of ID theft, Majoras said.

The report calls on U.S. attorney's offices to designate a prosecutor who will focus on ID theft, and it recommends tougher laws for ID theft, including those targeting spyware makers and keystroke loggers. The U.S. should also create new sentencing guidelines that make it easier for judges to increase sentences for ID thieves who steal multiple identities, the report said.

Some of the task force recommendations have already been implemented, and others should be implemented within the next year, Gonzales said. The task force in September made several interim recommendations, including the creation of nationally accepted police reports that victims could fill out online, and a change in U.S. law that would require those convicted of such crimes to pay victims for the time used to clear up identity problems.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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