Data Breaches: Does the Government Need to Step In?

But House Republicans seemed more interested in encouraging companies like Target and Neiman Marcus to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's information-sharing system for critical infrastructure, in which companies and the government share information with each other, than legally requiring companies under federal law to share information with the consumers actually affected by the breaches.

(Notably, Homeland Security did in fact warn retailers about potential malware breaches in January, well after Target and Neiman Marcus' – and potentially other retailers' -- customers had been affected.)

Empowering the Consumer

It's time to stop the tired anti-government rhetoric and start dealing with the reality that people need to know when their data has been exposed to criminals so they can be on alert and take steps to mitigate the risks engendered by that exposure. Most people assume that if they do all the right things, they can protect themselves from being victims of identity theft.

But as these ongoing data breaches prove, if your data is in the wrong database at the wrong moment when the wrong person gains unauthorized access, it doesn't matter how many credit card offers or sensitive documents you have shredded over the years: you can and very likely will be victimized by identity thieves. Without the knowledge that your personal or financial information has been exposed in a breach, you can hardly take the proactive steps needed to protect your identity or be on heightened alert for phishing scams in all their various new-fangled forms.

Once identity thieves have your information, their ability to exploit it (and you) doesn't stop if and when your bank replaces one credit card or you change one password. It costs them little additional effort to relentlessly bombard your inbox with real-seeming emails from your supposed bank, or phone calls from your supposed utility provider, or text messages from your supposed cellphone company -- and their payday can be massive if they just get one person in a hundred to click, call, reply or give up a credit card number.

But to hear Republicans talk, the real danger is that you might get too many notifications that your identity is at risk. Must be nice to be a Senator, eh?

This article originally appeared in Credit.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

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