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30 days’ notice is not enough!

President Obama recently proposed a law requiring that companies inform customers within 30 days when personal information, such as Social Security numbers, is exposed. Forty-seven states have data breach notification laws, which vary widely.

Pennsylvania requires that companies notify customers “without unreasonable delay” but the government isn’t notified. How does one define “unreasonable delay”? Also, only information in electronic format is covered. Writing your Social Security number on a paper form that isn’t shredded could result in your being exposed and you wouldn’t be notified.

A recent Pew Poll noted that 91 percent of Americans feel they’ve lost control of their personal information. Once you share information, will company employees be diligent in guarding your information? According to Experian’s Data Breach Resolution group, 80 percent of data breaches are rooted in employee negligence/error.

In last year’s data breaches at Target, JP Morgan, eBay, Home Depot, Sony and Staples, over 400 million people were exposed. Our country’s population is 320 million. Potentially every person in the country suffered from the insufficient security practices of companies with which we do commerce.

Some hacked businesses appease us by offering “free” credit monitoring for a limited time. That’s a nice gesture, but what happens when the monitoring expires? Will criminals wait until the expiration to employ our personal data?

We are “required” to give personal information when receiving medical care and banking services, making purchases and interacting with government. Since history reveals their inability to protect our information, shouldn’t they fund credit monitoring and protection services for their consumers, including fraud alerts and security freezes?

A fraud alert is a yellow flag attached to our credit file informing lenders they should take special precautions to ensure our identity before extending credit. We can provide a phone number, enabling lenders to verify that we, and not fraudsters, are applying for credit. Fraud alerts are free but must be renewed every 90 days. Purchasing a credit monitoring service can provide automatic renewals.

A security/credit freeze prevents lenders from viewing your credit file, meaning your credit can’t be extended to anyone. If you wish to increase your credit or open a new card, you’ll need to remove and then reapply the freeze. There’s a $10 application fee and $10 fee for each future change. And you must send an application to all three credit bureaus.

Obama’s proposed 30-day notice does little to protect us, but offers hackers a 30-day grace period to do financial damage to unsuspecting people. We need meaningful laws protecting us from data negligence by offering real-time “nationwide credit monitoring,” giving every person “free” fraud alerts that automatically renew. Credit freezes should be included for people desiring that level of protection.

The cost of providing these services could be borne by every business requiring us to share personal data. Spreading the cost over many businesses makes the financial impact negligible. Companies could send the payments to the government for each consumer. Consumers would receive a tax credit via simple or itemized forms covering credit-monitoring costs.

Since data breaches cost the American public and businesses billions of dollars every year, this investment in nationwide credit monitoring would save consumers and businesses money!

Michael Sobol, from Lebanon, Pa., is an instructional technology specialist/designer.


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