Survey: Congress falling down on data protection

Lawmakers haven't done enough to safeguard Social Security numbers and other sensitive consumer data, D.C. area opinion makers believe.

Lawmakers have dropped the ball on keeping consumer data safe, D.C. area opinion leaders said in a survey published Wednesday.

In the survey, iQ Research and Consulting asked 400 "senior-level professionals" in government, policy, consulting, media and technology in and around Washington their opinion on protection of consumer data. It was commissioned by Adobe Systems and RSA Security.

Eight out of 10 respondents believe that Congress has done too little to protect social security numbers, and three-quarters say the same for financial data and credit card numbers. A majority also said that lawmakers fall short when it comes to safeguarding credit reports (68 percent), phone numbers and addresses (59 percent), and tax and salary records (54 percent).

The survey comes in the wake of several high-profile data security failures. On Monday, CitiFinancial said tapes with unencrypted information on 3.9 million customers were lost by UPS while in transit to a credit bureau. CitiFinancial is the consumer finance subsidiary of Citigroup.

Other recent data loss incidents affected a variety of institutions, such as Bank of America and Wachovia, data brokers ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, and the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

Congress is not sitting idle. After the LexisNexis breach in April, members started a series of discussions and have not ruled out the possibility of legislation.

For protection of consumer data, a majority of survey respondents see a "strong impact" role for technology (86 percent), consumer education (73 percent), corporate action (72 percent), federal legislation (68 percent) and industry action (57 percent), according to the survey.

In the Adobe/RSA survey, a vast majority of respondents said that Congress has not done enough to protect consumer information. Only 8 percent believed it is "very likely" Congress will pass legislation increasing security requirements for companies that collect consumer data. Such legislation is "somewhat likely," according to 47 percent of respondents.

Among those who believe legislation is coming, 22 percent said it is very likely that Congress will pass laws increasing penalties for data theft. Forty-three percent said it was only somewhat likely and a about a third calls it unlikely.

Survey sponsors Adobe and RSA Security both sell products, such as document management and encryption software, that could help protect data.

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