Analysis: Identity Theft Threatens Asbestos Victims Under Congressional Proposal
A bill awaiting a vote in the House would put thousands of Americans at heightened risk of identity theft, according to an analysis of the legislation by a leading authority in the area of privacy law.
For Immediate Release: September 28, 2015 Washington, D.C. – A bill awaiting a vote in the House would put thousands of Americans at heightened risk of identity theft, according to an analysis of the legislation by a leading authority in the area of privacy law. The so-called FACT Act, or H.R. 526, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas would require public dis...
For Immediate Release: September 28, 2015
Washington, D.C. – A bill awaiting a vote in the House would put thousands of Americans at heightened risk of identity theft, according to an analysis of the legislation by a leading authority in the area of privacy law.
The so-called FACT Act, or H.R. 526, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas would require public disclosure on the Internet of sensitive personal information of asbestos victims seeking compensation through the asbestos trust system, including their names, work history and possibly a portion of their Social Security number.
Glen Kopp, a partner with the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani and a leading authority in the area of privacy law, reviewed the Farenthold legislation at the request of EWG Action Fund. In his analysis, Kopp wrote:
Identity theft largely results from the compromise of personal identification information, which identity thieves can use for any number of illegal purposes, including bank fraud, credit card fraud, and health care fraud.
Based on the sparse limitations contained in H.R. 526, information for each claimant that may be made publicly available could include the following: name; address; phone number; email address; date and/or year of birth; last four digits of a Social Security number; employer; asbestos exposure history; and claim amount. . . .
Maintaining the confidentiality of this kind of information is particularly important given its typical use by identity thieves. For example, phishing scams – or schemes in which criminals impersonate a legitimate business or person in order to trick a victim into giving away personal information – are often predicated on exploiting an existing relationship between the victim and the business. Current or previous employment information can provide a criminal with the lure he or she needs for such an attack. An address, email address, and/or phone number are the means to execute the attack.
“Congress should be passing laws that help protect the American people from the threat of identity theft, not pushing legislation that would put them at even greater risk,” said Reade Wilson, staff attorney for EWG Action Fund. “Not only would H.R. 526 delay and reduce compensation to dying asbestos victims, but it would expose victims to scammers and online thieves. The so-called FACT Act adds insult to injury,” Wilson added.
Cyber crime and identity theft has become a big business in the U.S. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that almost 10 percent of all Americans 16 and older – 16.6 million people – were victims of identity theft in 2012 alone, losing $25 billion to fraud, according to Kopp’s analysis.
Some of the biggest cyber attacks of 2015, like those against the IRS, the Office of Personnel Management and Sony Pictures, included the capture of some of the same personal information the Farenthold bill would require to be disclosed on the Internet.
During testimony in 2013 before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director James Comey told the panel that cyber attacks now present one of the most significant threats to the American people. Comey surmised that over the next decade, cyber crime will almost certainly surpass the risks posed by international terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
“We have connected all of our lives — personal, professional and national — to the Internet,” Comey testified. “That’s where the bad guys will go because that’s where our lives are, our money, our secrets.”
“This legislation runs counter to the major privacy and security measures championed in Congress,” Wilson said. “The Farenthold bill would make it easier, not harder, to steal someone’s identity.”
The legislation has the backing of major corporations that still use asbestos, companies with significant asbestos liability and asbestos insurance companies. Some of the corporations lobbying on behalf of the so-called FACT Act include the Koch brothers Georgia-Pacific, Honeywell, 3M, Nationwide and Allstate Insurance.
Organizations that oppose the Farenthold bill include the International Association of Firefighters, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the National Education Association, AFSCME, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, Public Citizen and the American Association for Justice, among others.
The legislation would not only expose victims to identity theft but it would also deplete dwindling trust funds set aside to compensate victims. Officials for the trusts estimate that complying with the bill would require up to 20,000 additional hours a year for each trust — a burdensome and expensive mandate that will inevitably slow the processing of claims and distribution of payments.
Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, has introduced an identical version of the Farenthold bill in the Senate.
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.