2006-05-26 / Community

Wide-Ranging Identify Theft Bill Passed

Asembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee Chair Audrey Pheffer and Government Operations Committee Chair RoAnn Destito today announced the passage of a wide-ranging identity theft prevention legislative package, a series of bills aimed at protecting New York State residents from privacy invasions that could result in financial loss, damaged credit ratings and discrimination.

Pheffer and Destito advanced the legislation as a result of the proliferation of electronic commerce and communications that has become so pervasive and essential to the lives of New Yorkers.

They are joined by Assembly members Aurelia Greene and Adam Bradley, who also are sponsoring identity theft measures that they believe are critical to substantially strengthen the state's laws to protect its citizens from becoming victimized by identity-theft criminals.

The legislation, approved with bipartisan support, would enact new measures to protect personal information provided to the state as a matter of public record, more effectively restrict the unauthorized disclosure of Social Security numbers and require businesses to be more responsible with the use and disposal of personal information.

"Identity theft costs consumers and businesses millions of dollars each year, and is extremely disruptive to individuals and families," said Pheffer (D-Queens). "This comprehensive legislative package will serve to reduce this impact by implementing several important protections for consumers' personal information and providing assistance to those who become victimized."

"While our society has benefited greatly from the use of e-mails, Internet shopping and search engines, unfortunately, so have identity theft criminals who have exploited the availability and ease with which personal information can be acquired if the appropriate safeguards are not in place. That's why these bills are necessary to assure New Yorkers that their personal information is secure. No longer will residents have to worry that their information, provided to the state as part of an official public record, will end up on the Internet," said Destito (D-Utica).

The identity theft prevention package includes measures that would restrict businesses from filing personal identifying information that is not necessary or relevant to a public record (A.7670-D, Pheffer); require state agencies and municipalities to reject documents containing personal information and phase-in redaction of personal information on the Internet (A.10075-A, Destito); and prohibit agencies from using Social Security numbers as a means of identifying employees unless required to by law (A.10074, Destito). It also would require that agencies, when designing information retrieval systems, to do so in a manner that permits the segregation and retrieval of the records (A.8007, Paulin).

To establish a more effective and active effort by the state against privacy invasion, the privacy protection initiative would institute an Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Unit within the Consumer Protection Board, create an Identity Security Task Force, and require law-enforcement agencies to take identity-theft complaints and provide reports on those incidents (A.10077, Pheffer).

The package also provides New Yorkers with further protections by prohibiting businesses and others from making an individual's Social Security number available to the general public, restricting businesses from printing an individual's number on mailings or other communications, banning businesses from using an individual's number as means of access to services, products or benefits, and requiring that only necessary employees have access to number information (A.10076-C, Pheffer).

The legislation also would prohibit employers from identifying an employee with his or her Social Security number (A.8067-B, Bradley) and limit a business's ability to require a consumer to disclose their Social Security number, unless required by federal or state law (A.638, Greene).

"One of the largest factors contributing to identity theft is the unauthorized use of Social Security numbers," said Greene.

"In combating this serious financial crime, it is essential that we restrict the use and collection of Social Security numbers by businesses."

"This legislation will help prevent identity theft in the workplace, where employers are most vulnerable. Social Security numbers are often used in the workplace, and identity theft from employment records has been among the most common," said Bradley.

The Assembly initiative also would provide consumers with the ability to "freeze" their credit reports to guard against identity theft.

This new tool would allow consumers to prohibit access to the personal information maintained in their credit reports without their consent, thereby preventing identity thieves from taking out new loans and credit in a consumer's name (A.7349-D, Pheffer).

In addition, the measures would require businesses to exercise responsible care in the disposal of personal-identifying information, including shredding information before discarding; destroying personal information contained in the record before it is thrown away or modifying a record to make such information unreadable to ensure that no unauthorized person will have access to this information contained in the record (A.8456-B, Pheffer).

Pheffer and Destito noted that this legislative package was developed following the hearing their committees conducted on September 15, 2005, at which they took testimony from officials of the United States General Accounting Office, the New York State Attorney General's Office, the New York State Civil Service Department and the state Consumer Protection Board.

Private business interests representing the banking, insurance, marketing and retail industries also participated.

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