No consensus on notifying victims of data breaches, but I have a few thoughts

Eric Tucker of Associated Press reports:

The data breach at Target Corp. that exposed millions of credit card numbers has focused attention on the patchwork of state consumer notification laws and renewed a push for a single national standard.

Most states have laws that require retailers to disclose data breaches, but the laws vary wildly. Consumers in one state might learn immediately that their personal information had been exposed, but that might not happen in another state, and notification requirements for businesses depend on where compares are located.

Attorney General Eric Holder has joined the call for a nationwide notification standard, but divisions persist, making a consensus questionable this year.

“We’re stuck with the state-by-state approach unless some compromise gets done at the federal level,” said Peter Swire, a privacy expert at Georgia Tech and a former White House privacy official.

Despite general agreement on the value of a national standard, there are obstacles to a straightforward compromise:

—Consumer groups don’t want to weaken existing protections in states with the strongest laws.

—Retailers want laws that are less burdensome to comply with and say too much notification could cause consumers to tune out the problem.

—Congress is trying to figure out how a federal standard should be enforced and what the threshold should be before notification requirements kick in.

Read more on Yahoo! News

One compromise might be to not require businesses to notify consumers directly in low-risk situations, but have them notify states – and require states to post breach notices on a public website consumers can check. Or in the alternative, have a large federal website that updates with submitted breach reports on a weekly basis. The following types of information would make for a helpful table/entry: name of entity, address, number of consumers affected, types of information involved, nature of breach, date of incident, date of discovery, any vendor/business associate involved, whether credit monitoring services are being offered, and contact phone numbers/email addresses for consumers to use to contact entity if they have questions.

And as part of any federal law, law enforcement agencies that discover a breach should be required to notify the breached entity (although they should be able to require delayed notification by the entity to protect any investigation).

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