After everything you did to keep your incredibly dangerous personal information secure it’s out there for the highest bidder. Your loss and that of maybe half of the U.S. population just dumped a big new opportunity on a Congress that badly needed somebody to toss it a bone. Two hurricanes didn’t do the trick. We have to wait for reports of people neglected by FEMA before lawmakers can have some fun with Irma and Harvey.
It’s been a rough year. Congress needs a circus we can all buy into. Now it has one.
Big new opportunity for Congress isn’t about your loss
There are data breaches and then there is the Equifax slip-up. We can’t go back. Too much is lost. This is a disaster that will keep biting us for years to come because our identities are the one thing about us that we can’t change. Without them we scarcely exist or worse, we are a risk and a liability. That’s not a good thing to be in a society where your credit score matters more than anything else about you. If you are a good person with bad credit you might as well be a criminal.
Lawmakers get the ball rolling
It didn’t take long, but after a bad summer and a fall that started with Trump’s end run around Republicans on the debt ceiling the GOP needed a win. Now the party has one that it can share with Democrats.
The House Financial Services Committee called the catastrophe “troubling”1 when it announced that it is gearing up for its first hearing on the breach. Rabble-rousing California Congressman Ted Lieu sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee requesting an immediate hearing featuring players from all three of the big credit reporting agencies.2
The Congressional Task Force to Combat Identity Theft and Fraud laid out the steps we should take to protect ourselves. We have heard them all before, including “file your taxes early.” That’s smart thinking. There will be competition between illegals and other identity thieves to get their hands on our refunds.
The task force also suggested that a credit freeze might be a good idea. Credit freezes cost money and – surprise – when I tried it on the Equifax site on Monday I was greeted with a screen that said “System currently unavailable.” The same thing happened when I tried to implement a credit alert, which drove me to TransUnion in hopes that maybe my data is safe there. How safe it is remains to be seen, but at least TransUnion’s credit alert worked.
Data breach is Congress’s gain
Washington has tried to safeguard our personal information before. The Obama White House warned in 2014:
With over 100 million Americans falling victim to data breaches over the last year, and millions suffering from credit card fraud and identity crimes, there is a need to act …3
We got an Executive Order and a White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection.4 This came years after Dodd-Frank punished Wall Street and before the push for cybersecurity legislation that went nowhere despite the president’s call for “an actual bill.”5
Now Congress has a big new opportunity for more of the same. Republicans will blame the failure of Obama-era consumer protections. Democrats will blame Trump and corporate America for trampling the common man.
Both parties will beat the cybersecurity reform drum.
If we find out Russian hackers were involved, so much the better.
Who profits from your loss? Everyone but you.
Members of Congress will have lots of time in the spotlight making charges, levelling accusations, and defending our identities. It will sound good but won’t amount to much. Your data will still be gone, possibly being purchased and abused as you read this. The truth is there isn’t much that can be done to prevent this sort of thing from happening. There is too much information out there and it boils down to a battle of smarts between data protectors and information thieves.
Perhaps you can find comfort knowing that there is profit to be had from your loss. Putting a freeze on your credit costs you money to protect information you never asked these companies to collect. Credit monitoring agencies will rake in the dollars. Lawyers will file lawsuits and hope for that penultimate class action filing. Last but not least are the identity thieves who helped spur all this profit-making in the first place.
While all this is going on our lawmakers will talk, and talk, and talk. They got a break. This is a big opportunity for them. After all, doing nothing and making it look like something is what they are best at.
UPDATE September 13, 2017: a letter and a promise from Democrats
Democrats consider the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be one of the triumphs of Obama’s reign:
The CFPB was created to provide a single point of accountability for enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.6
Much of America just got whacked in the worst possible way because we weren’t protected.
Less than two months ago, Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) boasted the bureau’s successes when she blasted Republicans for “clamoring to weaken and ultimately destroy the Consumer Bureau since its creation”:
In conclusion, the Consumer Bureau has successfully helped people around the country with their mortgages, credit cards, student loans, credit scores, and other financial products; it has enacted a number of consumer protections to help individuals and families take control of their economic lives;7
Yesterday, Democrats sent a letter to the chairman of Equifax “demanding answers.”8
This is what they told us when they established the Consumer Bureau and all the regulation and red tape that went with it:
This means that for the first time, the Federal government will be able to regulate the activities of independent payday lenders, private mortgage lenders and servicers, debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and private student loan companies.9
So what happened with regulating credit reporting agencies? Democrats like Ms. Waters should be on the hot seat too, but don’t look for that to happen. That’s not what a congressional dog and pony show is all about. Instead, when news of the breach went public she called for us to “impose additional statutory and regulatory reforms to protect the integrity of the country’s credit reporting system.”10
My data was stolen too, but when it comes between trusting Democrats or the credit industry to protect me I’m siding with the credit bureaus. They have a lot more to lose than Congress if they aren’t honest.
UPDATE September 14, 2017: if you don’t know what Apache Struts is, you will soon
I confess my ignorance about what “Apache Struts” is, but I’m not an IT professional. Pretty soon we are all going to know, no matter what we do for a living. We’ll let Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) clue us in. She sent a letter to Transunion and Experian yesterday that included a big red flag for a lot more than credit bureaus when it asked:
Does your company use the Apache Struts software for any of its databases? If so, do these databases contain sensitive or personally identifiable information about consumers? 11
I’m guessing that there are a lot of closed door meetings being held this week featuring beleaguered IT security pros who have to explain that there might be a problem.
UPDATE September 23, 2017: TrustedID white space or gone phishing?
Equifax’s “activation email” for my TrustedID identity theft monitoring arrived last week. I didn’t want to deal with it during a too busy work week and the message said I have until November 20, 2017.
So I clicked on the link a few minutes ago to “answer some questions” about myself. A window opened up. Nothing happened. Blank screen. What did I just click on??
I can understand their system being overloaded. They have lots of new customers to cope with, but this raises another question. Did the big damage control brains at Equifax ever consider that an email might not be the best way to confirm identities when many of us receive piles of phishing message in our inboxes every morning, or is this just another example of how they regard our very secure, highly dangerous personal data?
1. “Hensarling: Committee Will Hold Hearing on Troubling Equifax Data Breach.” Financial Services Committee. September 8, 2017. https://financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=402303, retrieved September 12, 2017.
2. “Bank Info Security: Equifax Faces Mounting Anger, $70 Billion Lawsuit.” Ted Lieu. September 11, 2017. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/bank-info-security-equifax-faces-mounting-anger-70-billion-lawsuit, retrieved September 12, 2017.
3. “FACT SHEET: Safeguarding Consumers’ Financial Security.” The White House. President Barack Obama. October 17, 2014. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/17/fact-sheet-safeguarding-consumers-financial-security, retrieved September 12, 2017.
5. “SECURING CYBERSPACE – President Obama Announces New Cybersecurity Legislative Proposal and Other Cybersecurity Efforts.” The White House. President Barack Obama. January 13, 2015. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/13/securing-cyberspace-president-obama-announces-new-cybersecurity-legislat, retrieved September 12, 2017.
6. “The Bureau.” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/the-bureau/, retrieved September 13, 2017.
7. “Democratic Staff Report Documents Successes of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Importance of Rulemaking on Forced Arbitration.” U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. Democrats. July 24, 2017. https://democrats-financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=400699, retrieved September 13, 2017.
8. “Rush Joins #&C Democrats in Questioning Equifax CEO.” Bobby L. Rush. September 12, 2017. https://rush.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rush-joins-ec-democrats-in-questioning-equifax-ceo, September 13, 2017.
9. Slack, Megan. “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 101: Why We Need a Consumer Watchdog.” The White House. President Barack Obama. January 4, 2012. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/01/04/consumer-financial-protection-bureau-101-why-we-need-consumer-watchdog, retrieved September 13, 2017.
10. “Waters Statement on the Equifax Security Breach.” U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. Democrats. September 7, 2017. https://democrats-financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=400771, retrieved September 13, 2017.
11. “Rep. Maloney Requests Information from TransUnion and Experian in Light of Equifax Data Breach.” Carolyn B. Maloney. September 13, 2017. https://maloney.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-maloney-requests-information-from-transunion-and-experian-in-light, retrieved September 14, 2017.