10.21.2014Personal Tech

Stemming the Tide of Identity Theft

This is a guest post from New York State Senator Kevin S. Parker. Senator Parker is committed to restoring the overall quality of life for the constituents of the 21st Senatorial District in Brooklyn. A lifelong Brooklyn resident, Senator Parker has been a Flatbush resident for more than 31 years.

We have all heard about the crime of identity theft. In 2012, according to the U.S. Justice Department, identity theft accounted for $24.7 billion in losses, which was $10 billion more than all other property crimes put together. We also know that in 2012, almost 17 million people age 16 or older had their identities stolen, however, only 9 percent of those victims reported the crime to the police. In New York state, we average 19 victims of identity theft per minute.
Unlike most other crimes, identity theft is fairly new, and dates back to 1998, when Congress passed the Identity Theft Deterrence Act. New York passed its Identity Theft statutes in 2002, after four years of experience with the federal law showed that the crime was simply increasing every year, rather than being deterred. Identity theft crimes doubled in 2002, for example, and have been increasing by approximately one-third annually since 2010.

Like many crimes, adding tougher penalties has not worked, and too many Americans continue being victimized by this crime. The advice we get from consumer groups is to be careful, and to take a series of steps to guard our identities and those of our children. We also hear about what to do after our identity is stolen, but all those measures do is place the burden of responsibility on the backs of American consumers. Instead, we should be looking for a new means of dealing with  identity theft.
Government must deepen its partnership with the private sector to protect Americans by providing incentives for businesses to take more comprehensive measures to guard against hacking and other ways in which criminals steal customer information. In New York, we should create an office of the State Privacy Advocate, a department tasked with the duty of protecting New Yorkers’ confidential and personally identifiable information. This office would set up a statewide public-private partnership that would share “best practices” for protecting businesses’ systems and citizens’ information.

Additionally through this office, the state would provide technical assistance and financing for local governments to improve their cybersecurity and other reasonable measures to protect citizen information.

Government must act more decisively in protecting citizens’ confidential information. Such an office would allow the state to take an active role in lowering identity theft and other types of cyber-victimization of its citizens.