President Obama is announcing a major legislative push aimed at helping to safeguard your privacy. With his speech Monday, Obama's signaling that identity theft and consumer protection will be top priorities for his administration in 2015; already, the White House is saying that these issues will be raised again in this year's State of the Union address. Here's what the president is announcing, in plain English.
An expansion in the number of Americans benefiting from free credit scores.
A number of banks and credit-card issuers are volunteering to give their customers access to their credit scores for free. Credit scores can help flag financial fraud and other potential credit problems. With Obama's announcement, Bank of America, JP MorganChase and USAA are all jumping on board the credit score bandwagon. The White House says that the move extends free credit scores to more than half of all U.S. adults that have them.
A federal bill requiring companies to reveal when they've been hacked.
Right now, if your personal data gets exposed as a result of a corporate hack, whether the company is obligated to tell you so depends mostly on where you live. Some states, such as California, have extremely strong data breach notification laws. But many others don't. There's been some pressure to fix this state-by-state patchwork and to create a single federal standard, but nothing's been passed so far. Details of the president's own proposal are still vague, but we know that it would require companies to tell affected customers of a data breach within 30 days of the company discovering the leak.
A bill banning student data from being used for anything other than "educational purposes."
With more and more kids using software in school, many privacy advocates worry that the usage data generated by educational apps and devices could be used to build detailed personal profiles of children for marketing or other purposes, long before these students can make their own financial decisions. Information that's often collected by massive open online courses, or MOOCs, includes class participation data, birth dates and even addresses. It's unclear what "educational purposes" really means, and that'll have to be hashed out in legislation, but this could help make sure students of all kinds get some new privacy protections.
A bid to safeguard data about your energy habits.
Our cities are getting smarter all the time. One way this is happening is through the use of smart meters and smart electricity grids that can monitor and even manage your house's resource usage. How long you keep your lights on, and when, may not seem like terribly important information. But in the wrong hands, it could reveal patterns about your comings and goings or indirectly affect your energy bill. To address that, the Obama administration is rolling out a set of voluntary guidelines for utility companies that, if adopted, would limit how these firms can use and presumably share this data.
A consumer privacy Bill of Rights.
In the next month and a half, Obama says, he'll reintroduce an updated version of a proposal known as the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. We last heard about this legislation in 2012 — companies wouldn't be required to adopt it if it passes Congress, but the Federal Trade Commission would be able to take action against companies that do sign onto it and then fail to uphold its principles. The guidelines as proposed in 2012 suggested giving all Americans the opportunity to opt-out of data collection and to have any personal information be stored securely, among other priorities.