Strategic Plan, Web Site, Released to Combat Identity Theft

Identity theft "is a personal invasion, done in secret, that can rob innocent men and women of their good names."

by / April 24, 2007
The President's Identity Theft Task Force Strategic Plan to combat identity theft was released yesterday. The strategic plan is the end result of a joint effort by a 17-agency task force, co-chaired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras, to formulate a comprehensive and fully coordinated plan to attack this widespread and destructive crime.

The plan focuses on ways to improve the effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of identity theft; enhance data protection for sensitive consumer information maintained by the public sector, private sector, and consumers; provide more comprehensive and effective guidance for consumers and the business community; and improve recovery and assistance for consumers.

"Identity theft is a crime that goes far beyond the loss of money or property," said Gonzales. "It is a personal invasion, done in secret, that can rob innocent men and women of their good names. The strategic plan we are releasing today is part of a comprehensive effort to fight this crime, protect consumers, and help victims put their lives back together."

The Task Force was created by an executive order in May 2006, and developed 31 major recommendations for the plan. "When the President established this Task Force last May, he met with victims of identity theft," said Gonzales. "He heard their voices -- and he asked the Task Force to step up and make a difference. With this report we have made good on that promise."

In addition to the release of the Task Force's Strategic Plan, a Web site was launched today which contains the full Strategic Plan, and will eventually serve as clearinghouse for educational resources for consumers, businesses, and law enforcement on ways to prevent and detect identity theft, and help victims recover.

"Identity theft is a blight on America's privacy and security landscape," said Majoras. "Identity thieves steal consumers' time, money, and security, just as sure as they steal their identifying information, and they cost businesses enormous sums. The Strategic Plan submitted to the President provides a blueprint for increased federal prevention and protection."

The various agencies involved weighed in on this subject. "Many agencies, like the Treasury, have existing plans to combat identity theft, but this strategy promotes enhanced coordination among federal, state, and local authorities and recognizes the need for private sector participation," said Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Compliance Policy D. Scott Parsons. "The report will serve as a blueprint for preventing and tracking down identity thieves and giving them due justice. More importantly, it charts a course to improve public awareness and data security, to prevent the opportunities for these crimes and to assist victims."

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which served on the task force, commented that mail remains the safest way to communicate and share information -- less than 4 percent of all identity theft can be traced to the mail according to FTC reports. Two years ago, the Postal Inspection Service created the Intelligence Sharing Initiative, a website that allows inspectors and fraud investigators representing retail and financial institutions, as well as major mailers, to share information relating to identity theft, as well as financial crimes investigations and prevention methods. This is similar to the National Identity Theft Law Enforcement Center which is recommended by the report.

Although much has been done to combat identity theft, the specific recommendations outlined in the Strategic Plan -- from broad policy changes to small steps -- are recommended to more effectively fight identity theft and reduce its incidence and damage.

Highlights of the recommendations include the following:

  • Reduce the unnecessary use of Social Security numbers by federal agencies, the most valuable commodity for an identity thief;
  • Establish national standards that require private sector entities to safeguard the personal data they compile and maintain and to provide notice to consumers when a breach occurs that poses a significant risk of identity theft;
  • Implement a broad, sustained awareness campaign by federal agencies to educate consumers, the private sector and the public sector on methods to deter, detect and defend against identity theft; and
  • Create a National Identity Theft Law Enforcement Center to allow law enforcement agencies to coordinate their efforts and information more efficiently, and investigate and prosecute identity thieves more effectively. "This effort will increase our ability to analyze ID theft complaint data and other intelligence from the public and private sectors, and to make that information available to our law enforcement partners at all levels," said Gonzales.

The Task Force's recommendations also include several legislative proposals designed to fill the gaps in current laws criminalizing the acts of many identity thieves, and ensure that victims can recover the value of the time lost attempting to repair damage inflicted by identity theft. These proposals include the following actions:

  • Amending the identity theft and aggravated identity theft statutes to ensure that identity thieves who misappropriate information belonging to corporations and organizations can be prosecuted;
  • Adding new crimes to the list of offenses which, if committed by identity thieves in connection with the identity theft itself, will subject those criminals to a two-year mandatory sentence available under the "aggravated identity theft" statute;
  • Broadening the statute that criminalizes the theft of electronic data by eliminating the current requirement that the information must have been stolen through interstate communications;
  • Amending existing statutes to assure the ability of federal prosecutors to charge those who use malicious spyware and keyloggers; and
  • Amending the cyber-extortion statute to cover additional, alternate types of cyber-extortion.
The Task Force will continue its work over the coming months, and play a central role in the implementation of the Strategic Plan.
Gina M. Scott Writer