- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2015

Laying out key goals ahead of his State of the Union address next week, President Obama on Monday unveiled new proposals to protect American consumers and students from the growing menace of identity theft and data breaches.

In a speech at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, the president proposed a variety of new steps, including legislation that would require companies to notify customers within 30 days if their identity has been stolen or if other data breaches have occurred. He also said he’ll push for a bill to protect the personal information of students.

But Mr. Obama’s focus on cybersecurity was almost overshadowed by hackers who seized control of the U.S. Central Command Twitter account as the president spoke. The account quickly was shut down and the White House said an investigation is ongoing into how the breach occurred.

The hackers claimed allegiance to the terrorist group the Islamic State, and posted internal phone numbers and other personal information for military officials.

The attack underscored the importance of cybersecurity even at the federal government level. Mr. Obama said the financial security of all Americans also is under attack by cyberhackers and identity thieves.

Recent spectacular data breaches have targeted the U.S. government, major corporations such as Target and Morgan Stanley, Sony Corp.’s Hollywood studios and institutions of higher education such as Butler University.

SEE ALSO: U.S. Central Command Twitter account hacked: ‘ISIS is already here’

“This is a direct threat to the economic security of American families and we’ve got to stop it. If we’re going to be connected, then we’ve got to be protected. As Americans, we shouldn’t have to forfeit our basic privacy when we go online to do our business,” Mr. Obama said.

The 30-day federal standard, should it be passed by Congress and become law, will replace state laws on data-breach notification. Those laws differ from state to state.

While it remains to be seen whether Mr. Obama’s proposal will clear the House and Senate, it was met with broad support in the retail and technology sectors.

“This is real progress on a tough issue. As we work our way through the details of these proposals, we think the president has hit on the key elements of protecting consumers’ personal privacy,” said Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

Mr. Obama also detailed his plan to protect the personal information of students.

The president said his legislation would make it illegal for companies to sell student data for anything unrelated to education, and also would protect students from targeted advertising based on information collected in school.

SEE ALSO: Pentagon to probe breach of retired officers’ personal information in Twitter hack

“Data collected on students in the classroom should only be used … to teach our children, not to market to our children,” Mr. Obama said.

The president also announced an updated version of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, first proposed in 2012. The White House will release the revamped legislation within 45 days, Mr. Obama said.

In addition, Mr. Obama said banks such as JPMorganChase and Bank of America have agreed to make credit scores available for free to their customers.

While reaction to Mr. Obama’s proposals mostly was positive, some believe the White House should have gone even further and included in its legislation a requirement that consumers get access to all of their credit reports for free.

“It makes far more sense for the White House to propose legislation that would require free ongoing access for all consumers to their three major credit reports. This would facilitate the absolute best type of credit monitoring possible as well as correct the obvious injustice that exists in terms of the relationship between consumers and credit bureaus,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub, an online service designed to help consumers find the best credit card for them.

The president will meet congressional leaders on Tuesday, and cybersecurity will be on the agenda, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said in a statement, according to the Reuters news agency. Mr. Thune has criticized Mr. Obama for not getting engaging on cybersecurity issues sooner.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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