Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2007

|

Literary works, such as 1984 and Forward to Foundation, resonate with the increasing concern, and even dissidence, among mid 20th century intellectuals like Orwell and Asimov with the rapid pace of technological change. These classics depict the manner through which a future central governmental figure or force would exercise monomaniacal control upon persons. As with all cycles in history, the majority of people will utilize, within the bounds of the law, such change for personal or public good. The rapid technological changes of our own time, including the Internet, can be utilized for such public good as the task of acquiring a telephone number or the ethereal goal of diffusion of knowledge among the masses. Conversely, with the increasing number of transactions that are conducted via smaller and smaller telecommunications devices, home computers and through automated systems, an increasing form of devastating criminal offense perpetrated by 21st century thieves is identity theft.

Dictionary.com defines identity theft as, “The crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the purpose of assuming that person’s name to make transactions or purchases.” A 2005 report entitled, “ID Theft: What It’s All About”, states that consumers daily transact a myriad of electronic business activities, including charging tickets or conducting a financial related matter. Individual identifiers can be misappropriated through a number of means, which include purloining a wallet or purse, “phishing” for data via telephonic or electronic transactions, theft of records that are unsecured at an office or at an abode and “dumpster dives”. Thieves can utilize the fruits of their manifest wrong to engage in such consequential actions as purchasing goods and services, opening bank accounts and credit cards, securing personal and/or business loans and submitting fraudulent tax filings.

The March 2006 Zogby Interactive nationwide poll of 6,703 adults indicated that older adults constitute the cohort with the most concerns about identity theft. Ninety-four percent of adults who are 65 and older stated they worry about the possibility of their identity being compromised. Moreover, 86 percent of younger adults from the ages of 18-29 indicated they are also concerned with identity theft. At a mean resolution time of 25 hours per victim in 2007, it is clear identity theft imposes serious constraints on personal time and treasure. To be sure, folks have a reason to be concerned as surveys sponsored by partnerships among the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau indicated that, in 2007, identity theft cost Americans some $49 billion.

In May 2006, President Bush signed and issued an executive order entitled “Strengthening Federal Efforts to Protect against Identity Theft”. Section 1 of the order states that the policy of the U.S. government will be to, “…use…resources…to deter, prevent, detect, investigate, proceed against, and prosecute unlawful use…of the identifying information of other persons….” Sections 2 and 3 of the order establishes a federal task force, whose members, among others, are to consist of such officers as the Attorney General, to serve as Chair, the Director of the Federal Trade Commission, to serve as its Co-chair, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The directive orders that, after conducting a comprehensive review of departmental, agency instrumentality functions and policies, the taskforce is to, within 180 days, issue a strategic report to coordinate and improve the efficiency of the Federal Government’s activities in the areas of identity theft awareness, prevention, detection and prosecution.

The essence of the August 2006 report of the President’s Identity Theft Task Force – entitled “Summary of Interim Recommendations: Prevention – Improving Government Handling of Sensitive Personal Data” include:

Guidance and
Forms Management
  • Guidance is to be issued by OMB governing notifications of governmental data breaches and the assistance, if any, to be provided in the remediation such breaches. OMB and the Department of Homeland Security, through the interagency effort already underway, are to outline best practices in the areas of automated tools, training, processes and standards enabling agency-wide improvement in security and privacy programs. They are also requested to develop a list of the top mistakes to avoid in order protecting government information.
     
  • The Office of Personnel Management, is requested to, in conjunction with other agencies, conduct a comprehensive review of the use and concealment of SSNs in its collection and manipulation of human resource data. Steps are to be instituted to eliminate, restrict or conceal the use of personal identifiers on OPM related forms. OPM is to issue guidance to the human capital management community on the use of SSNs. Consistent with applicable law, all federal agencies should publish a new “routine use” guidance governing their systems of records under the Privacy Act. All federal agencies are to review and determine where the use of SSNs can be eliminated, restricted or concealed.

Education and Outreach
  • Workshops, involving academics, industry and entrepreneurs, focused on developing and promoting improved means of authenticating the identities of individuals should be hosted.

Law Enforcement and
Restitution
  • The Federal Trade Commission will develop a universal police report, which an identity theft victim can complete, print, and take to any local law enforcement agency.
  • Congress is recommended to amend the criminal restitution statutes to allow for restitution from a criminal defendant to an identity theft victim, in an amount equal to the value of time reasonably spent by such victim attempting to remediate the intended or actual harm incurred.
     

Dante Alighieri once stated, “The customs and fashions of men change like leaves on the bough, some of which go and others come.” Change is a kind of constant ether of the universe – ebbing and flowing, but always present. As members of a learned profession, it is rendered to us to ensure that the customs and fashions of individuals, which are ever in flux, be utilized for the maximum public good.

Gary C. Norman serves as Vice President, Legal Chair and Spokesperson for the National Council for Support of Disability Issues, and has recently been accepted to the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. as an American Marshall Memorial Fellow.

 

previous next
Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2007