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Data Security Could Be Potent November Election Issue

Fewer than a fifth of adults surveyed believe existing laws can protect them from fraud, identity theft, and other crimes on the Internet, and over two-thirds want Congress to pass strong data protection legislation.

The American public has little confidence in the security of the country's digital infrastructure, a poll released Tuesday by the Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA) said. According to the advocacy group, the issue could play a part in upcoming November elections.

"While data security alone won't be a deciding factor in an election, the survey does reveal that voters have serious doubts about candidates opposed to strong data security laws," said Paul Kurtz, the CSIA's executive director, in a statement. "Consumers are beginning to understand the link between their privacy and data security and they are looking to their government leaders for action."

Fewer than 1 in 5 of the 1,150 U.S. adults surveyed believed that existing laws can protect them from fraud, identity theft, and other crimes on the Internet. Meanwhile, over two-thirds (70 percent) want Congress to pass strong data protection legislation.

The desire to see something done crosses party lines, the survey revealed. Although Democrats were more likely to support stronger data security laws (78 percent), Republicans were not far behind, with 68 percent of them favoring strict legislation.

Representatives run a risk if they oppose passing some kind of law, the CSIA said in its analysis. "If a Member of Congress votes against a strong data security bill this session, the survey suggests that the Member’s opponents will bring up the issue in the fall campaign," the survey's associated report read.

Congress got off to a quick start on new data laws in the first half of 2005, but since then it's been stalled. There are currently eight identity theft, breach notification, and data regulation bills pending in the Senate and House.

"The rash of high-profile data breaches over the past 18 months has compromised more than 55 million personal records," added Kurtz. "Meanwhile, Congress has spent more than a year debating data security legislation without results as the issue of data security has been rising in the public consciousness."

The CSIA's survey put American overall confidence in the digital state of the union at 57 (out of an index possible 100), said that 94 percent of citizens believe that identity theft is a "serious" problem, and concluded that loss of faith in the Internet's overall security is having a serious economic impact.

"A loss of consumer confidence is a billion dollar problem," said Kurtz. "It's time for Congress to move forward with a national data security bill that assures Americans they are being protected online."

The disclosure Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs that over 26 million veterans' identities were lost has relit the fire under Congress, however.

Thursday, the Senate's Homeland Security Committee and the Committee on Veterans Affairs are to hold a joint emergency hearing on the breach, and will call Secretary Jim Nicholson to testify.

The CSIA's report can be downloaded in PDF format from the group's Web site.

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