Commentary: Data breeches are a real danger to Vermonters

Early in September, thousands of Vermonters were shocked to discover that their personal information including, social security numbers, credit card numbers and driver license numbers had been stolen in a security breech at Equifax, one of the three major credit rating agencies. Equifax now reports that the breech impacted 145.5 million U.S. consumers.

Soon after the news broke, legislators, the state Attorney General, and the Department of Financial Regulation began receiving calls with questions, concerns and complaints. As the credit rating companies advised consumers on what to do—credit reports, credit freezes, credit watches etc. the calls kept coming and anxiety grew as consumers spent hours working to contact the credit rating agencies to find out how their information may have been compromised and what steps to take. The Attorney General and the Department of Financial Regulation reached out with sound guidance in response to hundreds of calls and have been proactive in informing Vermonters.

Legislators are also responding, and I am aware of numerous drafting requests for bills in both the House and Senate for consideration when we return in January. I expect the bills to come to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which has jurisdiction over this area of law.

Working with Vice Chair Michael Marcotte, we are preparing in two significant ways. We have asked legislative council to research current Vermont and federal law regarding information privacy and security breaches so that the committee and the Legislature are well-grounded in what is already in place. As we consider what further steps can and should be taken to protect your privacy we also need to make sure you have access to credit when needed and that lenders have reliable information.

We have also, at the request of House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, organized four hearings around the state to hear Vermonters' questions, concerns, experiences and suggestions.

One of the hearings will be held in Manchester on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 12:30 p.m. Manchester Community Library, 138 Cemetery Avenue, Manchester Center.

The hearings will start with short presentations from Legislative Council, the Attorney General, and the Department of Financial Regulation followed by testimony from Vermonters.

Knowledge of the law and hearing from Vermonters will best inform the committee on advisable steps to address risks.

Last year the Committee and the House passed legislation addressing some of these issues. Our consumer protection proposal contained sections further protecting vulnerable seniors and children from identity theft. We also proposed consumer protections when credit scoring is used for automobile insurance pricing. The Senate will next consider these initiatives. The House also passed a bill calling for an in-depth look at the related issue of data brokers who buy and sell personal data and are largely unregulated. We expect to receive a report from the Attorney General and the Department of Financial Regulation for consideration this session.

Clearly, more needs to be done. When breeches occur the burden should fall on the responsible party. Consumers' private information must be respected and protected. Criminal behavior must stop. An individual's prospects can be severely impacted for life by identity theft.

I hope you will attend a hearing, inform yourself on how best to protect your information and offer your thoughts on how Vermont can best address ever increasing cyber threats.

State Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Pownal) is chairman of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee in the Vermont House of Representatives.


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