Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, writes to urge Congress to take long overdue action to protect the sensitive personal information of Americans. Last month, Equifax announced a monumental data breach affecting 143 million individuals. The breach exposed highly sensitive personal data—including Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and birth dates—and exploited a vulnerability that had been publicly announced several months earlier. As a result of this breach, nearly half of the U.S. population is at risk of identity theft, potentially for the rest of their lives. Over 200,000 people have signed our petition asking Congress to take decisive action to hold Equifax accountable, and to provide stronger protections over their personal information.

Although this is one of the largest breaches to date, it is hardly the first to put consumers’ data at risk. Over the last 15 years, hundreds of companies ranging from high-end retailers to hotel chains, and from pharmacies to data brokers, have been compromised, with consumers bearing the brunt of the harm. And while breaches can occur even when companies take reasonable precautions, many breaches have been caused by companies’ carelessness and lack of accountability. After years of failed bills and stalled debates, it is time for Congress to make data security a national priority, and to pass a law establishing these essential consumer protections:

  • Strong data security and data breach notification requirements for companies;
  • Free security freezes, and better access to fraud alerts for consumers;
  • Stronger controls over the sensitive data that credit bureaus collect and use.