The House Energy and Commerce Committee is launching a thorough review of data security and electronic privacy issues affecting American businesses and consumers. The committee has begun its work with hearings to shed light on the foundational question of data security, which has drawn increased attention in the wake of recent high-profile data breaches affecting tens of millions of consumers. While data security and prevention of data theft will mark the first phase of the committee's action, the Energy and Commerce Committee will also look later in the year at broader electronic privacy concerns. The committee has a long history addressing of more complex privacy-related matters, from the historic protections afforded under the Health Information Privacy law and Gramm-Leach-Bliley to continuing oversight in the last decade.
The first phase of the committee's review will look at the security of personal information collected and maintained online, particularly in light of the fact that nearly nine million Americans a year are victims of identity theft. Breached records include reports detailing consumers' financial and medical records. Sophisticated hackers have been successful in obtaining access to personal information such as names, birthdays, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, and social security numbers. The ramifications of a data breach are both costly and time consuming for businesses and consumers.
"In this digital age we must all remain vigilant against the dangers lurking online," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI). "Illegal hacking has become one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide. As cyber attacks become more frequent, our first step must be to strengthen data security to ensure protection of information that consumers choose to have collected and stored. Only when basic data security is addressed can we move forward to address the more complex questions about individual privacy in the digital era."
As Americans spend more of their time online, the opportunity for the unintended use and disclosure of personal information has only increased. There are reports of companies tracking where their customers live and work, using private information to target online advertising, and collecting personal information without adequate disclosure.
Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) said, "Clearly, American consumers need better safeguards when it comes to protecting their information online. When you type in a credit card number and hit "enter', you shouldn't have to cross your fingers and whisper a prayer. E-commerce is a vital and growing part of our economy. We should take steps to embrace it and protect it -- and that starts with robust cyber security. I look forward to working with Chairman Upton on a wide range of privacy issues which affect the lives of consumers on a daily basis."
Communications and Technology Subcommittee Greg Walden (R-OR) said, "There is concern that Americans don't have adequate understanding or control over how information about them is collected, used and disseminated on the Web, especially as the Web migrates to smartphones and tablets. We will study both the risks and rewards inherent in wired and wireless Internet communications. Whatever approach we ultimately take, we will strive to create a competitively and technologically neutral approach that both affords consumers protection and preserves innovation."
The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade will hold a hearing on June 2, 2011, at 1:00 p.m. to discuss "Sony and Epsilon: Lessons for Data Security Legislation."