Groups warn asbestos bill could spur online identity theft

Public interest groups are launching an 11th-hour campaign to kill a Republican-backed bill aiming to reduce asbestos lawsuit fraud that could receive a vote Thursday.

The advocates, led by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund, claim the so-called Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act would expose more of Americans’ personal data to cyber criminals.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The FACT Act would create conditions that are ripe for scam artists and identity thieves to prey on all victims of asbestos exposure who have filed claims with trusts established to ensure compensation for harm caused by asbestos corporations,” said a letter sent to House members Tuesday.

The bill’s proponents, such as Rep. Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdOvernight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers Five problems, five bipartisan solutions to advance the tech economy House to offer bill blocking government hacking powers MORE (R-Texas), have roundly rejected the argument. 

They insist the measure is a necessary step to better track payouts from asbestos trusts set up to compensate workers and family members injured by a company’s manufacturing of asbestos. Additionally, they say, nearly all people filing claims with asbestos trusts have already filed asbestos lawsuits, which require them to disclose similar personal data.

Public interest groups have been on a months-long crusade to block the FACT Act as it has moved through the House. The coalition has launched a parody website to raise grassroots awareness, written numerous letters and editorials, and even appealed to the House Cybersecurity Caucus.

The groups believe the bill will make it harder for asbestos victims and their families to collect compensation for diseases triggered by the toxic material. It’s estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related illnesses.

As the bill as moved closer to a final vote, the public interest coalition has focused its opposition on privacy concerns. They note the bill will require victims to disclose sensitive personal information online — full names, birth years, work histories, medical conditions and a portion of their social security numbers — when seeking claims, putting their personal security at risk.

“The publicly disclosed information required by the bill could be used, disclosed and processed with few restrictions by any person, anywhere in the world,” Tuesday’s letter said. “No U.S. privacy law would apply to the information once it is disclosed.”

The other advocacy groups who signed Tuesday’s letter are: Essential Information, Government Accountability Project, Patient Privacy Rights, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, TURN-The Utility Reform Network and World Privacy Forum.

— Updated 5:33 p.m.