Monday, January 02, 2006

Yet again: U.S. firm announces loss of customer data files

Before I start with this post, let me wish all my readers a Happy New Year!

Washington D.C. based hotel conglomerate Marriott International, Inc. announced a few days ago that their time-share operations firm Marriott Vacation Club International is missing backup computer tapes of its customers (see the stories in Slashdot and The Washington Post).

The tapes contain credit card account information and the Social Security numbers of about 206,000 time-share owners and customers, as well as employees of the company. So far it is unclear whether the tapes were stolen or lost. They have been missing since mid-November, but the firm informed the U.S. Secret Service only two weeks ago.

This incident is only the latest in a long string of stories about loss of customer data in U.S. firms in 2005. Previous similar cases covered in this blog include those of ChoicePoint, Lexis-Nexis subsidiary Seisint, Bank of America and Retail Ventures subsidiary DSW Shoe Warehouse. The main problem arising from these cases is that the data may be used for criminal "identity theft".

As a political reaction to this, U.S. Senators Schumer and Nelson have introduced a bill for a Comprehensive Identity Theft Prevention Act which proposes to establish an Office of Identity Theft, to set limits on the sale or transfer of sensitive personal information, and to require data merchants to register with the Office. The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

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