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States Scramble To Protect Data

Since a consumer could not remove a freeze instantly -- because the request would have to be verified and processed -- some opportunities for the consumer to make purchases or do other business might be temporarily affected.

"Consumers may say they want the choice, and may exercise the choice, but they don't often realize the consequences," said Nessa Feddis, senior policy counsel with the American Bankers Association. "They may not realize that a freeze will slow a credit application. It may also delay job applications, apartment rental applications, insurance applications."

_____Related News_____
Net Aids Access to Sensitive ID Data (The Washington Post, Apr 4, 2005)
Banking Rules Address Theft Of Customers' Private Data (The Washington Post, Mar 24, 2005)
Data Under Siege (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data (The Washington Post, Jan 20, 2005)

Norman Magnuson, a spokesman for the trade group that represents the three large companies that maintain credit reports on Americans, said that few consumers have used freezes in the three states that already have such laws, California, Vermont and Texas.

Robert Armbruster, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, said consumers can already place fraud alerts in their credit files, which put financial agencies on notice to be especially cautious. There are fees for alerts and freezes.

Gail Hillebrand, a senior attorney with Consumers Union, countered that most consumers contemplate job moves or major purchases such as homes or cars long enough in advance that they can lift their credit freeze in plenty of time. And fraud alerts do not prevent data from being transferred.

"It would be more convenient if we left our front doors unlocked at all times, but most of don't choose to do that," she said. "Unfortunately, the neighborhood for information is starting to look like the neighborhoods where we live."

The large information brokers, such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, have not taken positions on credit freezes. Industry representatives say they also favor a federal solution rather than a patchwork of state laws.

Other bills moving in more than 20 states, including Virginia and Maryland, require organizations to notify consumers if breaches occur.

Some of the bills waive the requirement if internal investigations show that it is unlikely that the security breach will result in identity theft.

That system was recently adopted for banks and savings and loans, and is supported by both industry and Deborah Platt Majoras, head of the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumer groups say the exemption is a loophole that will allow organizations to evade disclosure, since they may not know for sure whether thieves obtained enough data to cause trouble.

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