Equifax Data Breach Gives Californians Much to Think About

Americans are rightfully outraged over the massive data breach at Equifax.  We’re also upset about how the company handled the announcement of the breach and its proposed remedy.

What made the Equifax breach so jarring was how many of us are victims.  Roughly 1 in 2 people – 143 million Americans – had their Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, birthdates, bank account numbers, or other sensitive financial information compromised.  I’m one of them.

While nothing is 100 percent secure in our online world, we expect that financial institutions will have strong protections in place to safeguard sensitive data from thieves.

Data breaches are so common nowadays that we’re almost becoming desensitized to them.  Target, the Home Depot, Starbucks, and others retailers have recently been the subjects of hacks and breaches.

It seems like you’re at risk virtually anywhere you shop – online or in a traditional brick-and-mortar store.  You can even become a victim when you fill up your car at the gas station.

I was recently scanning my Facebook feed and noticed a post by my friend Mike Zimmerman alerting us that credit card skimmers had been found at an East Sacramento gas station where I frequent.  Fortunately, I usually pay with cash.

As outrage shifts to calls for action, don’t get in the way of publicity-seeking elected officials looking to score points by introducing legislation to “fix the problem.”

We discuss what can be done on a policy level this week on PRI’s podcast with our tech and innovation fellow Bartlett Cleland.  Policymakers aren’t IT workers so it’s unlikely that any legislative remedy proposed will make our financial information safer.  Remember, cyberthieves don’t follow the law and aren’t necessarily committing their crimes within the borders of our country.

Oregon Rep. Greg Waldon, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it best at a recent Congressional hearing, when he said, “I don’t think we can pass a law that – excuse me for saying, but – fixes stupid.”  In this case, stupid is Equifax.

Consumers need to demand – with their wallets – that financial institutions and retailers better protect their sensitive data or else they’ll take their business elsewhere.

Perhaps the best thing to come from the Equifax case is the lesson it has taught us all about the importance of being careful with how we shop, bank, and share information online.

Californians should also beware smooth talk about getting justice through class-action lawsuits or lawsuits filed by city attorneys and attorneys general.  These are the legal system’s version of headline chasing.  Only lawyers make money in them.  Victims won’t see much of anything.

Maybe our grandparents had it right when they kept all their money in their mattress.

Tim Anaya is Communications Director for Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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