Bipartisan senators introduce data security bill

Lawmakers in the Senate are unveiling a new data security bill that aims to protect consumers from having their identities stolen or being harmed by fraud.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that recent data breaches at major U.S. retailers have highlighted the need for added standards to protect shoppers from hackers.

“As the recent incidents involving Target and Neiman Marcus remind us, major data breaches that compromise consumers’ identities and financial security are becoming more routine,” Carper said in a statement on Wednesday. “We cannot allow technology advances to outpace the security measures in place to safeguard the transactions we conduct in person and online.”

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The lawmakers say that the new bill is necessary to establish a single strong set of national data security standards instead of the patchwork of laws that 49 states and territories have enacted on their own.

“New technologies pose new opportunities – as well as new security challenges,” Blunt added. “As recent headlines have once again reminded us, now is the time to strengthen our nation’s data security and defend consumers against data breaches by both businesses and government agencies.”

The Data Security Act would require shops, banks, government agencies and other institutions to protect sensitive information and notify people if there is a risk of fraud or identity theft. If they detect a data breach, the institutions would need to investigate what type of information may have been compromised, determine how far the hack went and whether any information could hurt somebody. 

Federal agencies, police and consumer reporting organizations would also need to be informed about any breach affecting more than 5,000 consumers.

The holiday shopping season hacks at Target and Neiman Marcus have potentially exposed more than 100 million customers’ credit cards, names, addresses and other information. The revelations have led to calls for new action on Capitol Hill from lawmakers in both parties.

In a letter on Wednesday, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed credit card companies on why they have not adopted stronger security features that exist in other countries.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. has not kept pace with the evolving threats to our payment systems even though more secure technology exists,” he wrote.

“This gap in security hurts American consumers and makes the U.S. a global center for card fraud.”