Hatch offers legislative package to fight identity theft

Running up debts on someone else's credit card or using someone's driver's license number to create a new identity has never been easier, and Attorney General Mike Hatch wants to close the floodgates in Minnesota.

Running up debts on someone else's credit card or using someone's driver's license number to create a new identity has never been easier, and Attorney General Mike Hatch wants to close the floodgates in Minnesota.

Hatch is working with a half dozen DFL lawmakers to craft various bills under a consumer privacy protection package with the goal of preventing identity theft. The advent of the Internet has only made it easier for thieves steal numbers and data for their own use.

"We're not into Star Wars here -- this is pretty basic stuff," Hatch told reporters Wednesday at Bemidji Regional Airport as part of a fly-around to bring attention to the privacy package.

"It says, hey, quit snooping in my cell phone records, quit demanding the use of my Social Security number when it is such a key piece of information," Hatch said, adding the Social Security number was never intended to become federal identification number.

Identity theft costs Minnesotans $1 billion a year, Hatch said.


The bills, however, face a deadline for action this session -- non-finance bills must clear all legislative committees in their chamber of origin by Tuesday or they are dead for 2006.

"I do this every year at the beginning of the session," Hatch said of introducing privacy-related bills for the past several years. "They all say they support, and then by the end of the session, things just fall off the table."

That's why he's asking Minnesotans to tell their legislator how important identity theft legislation is to them. He also predicts heavy lobbying against the bills from telemarketing firms and credit bureaus.

"The idea here today is to go around the state and just remind people" of identity theft, he said. "It hurts people, it compromises their security, it encourages theft. The right to privacy is really the right to dignity. It's not the right to misrepresent who you are, but it's a recognition of the fact that we have a right to privacy in our lives."

The package includes:

-- Restricting the state from the commercial distribution driver's license information without the licensee's express written consent. It would also limit the circumstances under which the stat could distribute individual licensee data, only if the consumer "opts in."

-- Prohibiting the sale cell phone or telephone call information without the written, signed consent of the consumer.

-- Limiting the use of Social Security numbers by business, eliminating a loophole in current law that allows businesses using Social Security numbers before July 1, 2007, to continue to do so, and bars businesses from refusing to do business with consumers who do not want to disclose their Social Security number.


-- Requiring financial institutions and health care companies to tell their customers and patients if the confidentiality of their personal information or medical records is violated by strangers.

-- Allowing consumers to immediately limit or freeze access to their credit information held by credit bureaus. Now, credit bureaus can take up to 45 days under federal law to consider information about a stolen or lost credit card. "The problem is that within that 45 days, those credit cards and loans with them have already been obtained," Hatch said. "By the time the federal law kicks in, the cows are out of the barn."

-- Requiring businesses to take steps to ensure strangers do not get access to Minnesotan's personal records when disposing of them.

Both Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Hatch, who is seeking the DFL endorsement to run for governor, have privacy agendas this session. Perhaps the most contentious is that involving driver's licenses, which for the most part are public data today.

Pawlenty would add biometric facial recognition technology to driver's licenses, and he would rule the driver's license database as not public information.

Minnesota's media has concerns in that the data is important in the public interest, such as helping identify school bus drivers and airline pilots with drunken-driving arrests.

But Hatch said that data will still be available through arrest and conviction data. And, he adds Pawlenty could make the data administratively private but hasn't done so, as Hatch would in the bill.

"The media says this is the camel's nose under the tent, but baloney," Hatch said. "There's always a way, of this person has violated a law, where you can get that address. The issue here is simply your driver's license data."


Minnesota has commercially sold driver's license data, which eventually ends up in databases, Hatch said. A Web site, , will sell information from those lists.

"Meth-heads are using this to finance their habits," Hatch said, explaining that officers executing search warrants find such lists of driver's license information which thieves use to obtain fraudulent credit cards or loans.

"You can go to a casino where checks are cashed, follow them out and take down car license numbers, go to," he said. Getting information from the site, "you can go to a computer and make a very nice fake ID."

When a person's identity gets stolen, "it takes years to unwind," Hatch said. "It takes decades, in some cases, to get it straightened around."

Hatch said his proposals protect consumers but still allow open access to government data. The proposals, except that of the driver's license data, do not impinge upon the state's Data Practices Act.

Pawlenty, however, would seek a turn-around -- making public data private unless exceptions are made.

"If anything, I've been highly critical of government not making access to data," Hatch said. "We say that we have a right to know in this state but it's amazing to know how many agencies inappropriately keep data private that shouldn't."

Public government data should be public, he said, unless there is a demonstration of some need for it to be private.

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