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My turn: Alaskans must work together to protect personal information

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2008

For the past four years we have worked together with other legislators in a true bipartisan effort to pass legislation to protect the identity of individual Alaskans.

In the modern world of electronic commerce and massive databases, it is now commonplace to read headlines detailing the latest data breach and steps that can be taken by people to protect themselves. However, as the concern by Alaska consumers grew, it became increasingly apparent that Alaska laws lagged behind most states when it came to personal information protection.

With that in mind we set out to develop a solution to help you better protect yourself. These efforts resulted in the passage of House Bill 65 this year, and Alaska is now poised to become a leader in protecting individuals' personal information while allowing modern commerce to continue.

Throughout this process we worked closely with stakeholders: consumer advocacy groups, the business community, and government officials to provide Alaskans with tools to help better protect themselves against these kinds of criminals. This wasn't new territory for either of us. We both have been, and continue to be protectors of individual Alaskans' personal information.

In 2001 we worked closely together to pass critical legislation to prohibit government from printing your social security number on hunting, fishing, and drivers' licenses. As we all know this is one of the most critical pieces of information bad actors use to steal identities and wreak havoc in the lives of hardworking people and our seniors. It was important to make sure we had tools in place to mandate business and government agencies that collect your information, such as your social security number, to notify you and the attorney general of the state of Alaska, if that information is breached and determined to be in the possession of would-be identity thieves.

The following are the critical provisions of the Alaska Personal Information Protection Act that allow Alaskans to better protect themselves:

Notification of security breaches. Requires businesses and government entities, that collect your personal data, to notify you if your information is acquired without authorization and it is determined that identity theft may result.

Freeze access to your credit report. Enables you to choose to protect against identity theft by freezing access to your credit report.

Protecting Social Security numbers. Limits businesses and government from intentionally communicating your Social Security number unless authorized by local, state, or federal law.

Disposal of records. Business and government must take all reasonable measures to protect your personal information by developing policies and procedures for destruction of their records containing your personal information.

Factual declaration of innocence after ID theft. Allows you as a victim of identity theft to petition the court and file a police report to declare your innocence. It allows the state to create a database of claims of identify theft and establish a toll-free phone number for reporting.

Credit card numbers. Businesses and government may not print more than the last four digits of your credit card or the expiration date on receipts.

People need to take identity theft seriously and guard their information carefully.

What can you do to protect yourself? First, shred sensitive information including documents with credit-based information. Second, never give out personal information through e-mail, the Internet, or over the phone unless you initiated the contact. Third, never carry your social security card or number with you, and only carry credit and debit cards you actually use frequently. Fourth, if you access any accounts online, you should have a password that is not easily guessed.

Finally, you should review your credit reports, preferably every quarter. The federal government requires the three major credit bureaus to provide one free credit report per year to consumers. To receive a copy of your credit report, call 1-877-322-8228 or go to www.annualcreditreport.com

Recent security breaches at large companies, many of which do business in Alaska, and the increase of computers and the Internet have increased the occurrence of identity theft. In 2006 the Federal Trade Commission reported that there were 384 victims of identity theft and fraud in Alaska.

We all need to be more careful - and now we will finally have laws that will help you protect yourself and your personal information.

House Bill 65 awaits transmittal to Gov. Sarah Palin for her consideration and signature and, if signed will become law in July of 2009.

• Gene Therriault is a Republican senator from North Pole. John Choghill is a North Pole Republican.



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