Identity theft is now a pandemic, and a scourge for its victims. Is the federal government finally ready to fight back? The Identity Theft and Restitution Act of 2008 was signed into law by President Bush. The new law is supposed to make it easier for the government to convict those charged with pursuing computerized identity theft. Supporters tout this legislation as allowing federal prosecutors to be more aggressive in cracking down on identity theft cyber crime. But will it work to protect millions of future victims? The new law provides for the following:
1. Discarding the requirement that damage to a victim's computer exceed $5,000 over a one year period before charges can be asserted for unauthorized access to a computer.
2. Eliminating the interstate jurisdictional requirement, thus allowing prosecution of those who steal personal information from a computer, even when the victim's computer is located in the same state as the thief's computer.
3. Allowing victims of identity theft to seek restitution for an amount equal to the value of the time reasonably spent to fix their problems.
4. Adding the charge of a conspiracy to commit cyber crimes. (The prior law only allowed for charges related to the actual crime, and made no provisions for conspiracy to commit the underlying charge.)
5. Adding the remedies of civil and criminal forfeiture to better allow federal prosecutors to combat cyber crime. Individuals found guilty of violating the act can be forced to forfeit both property used in commission of the cyber crime, as well as property obtained from any proceeds gained from the cyber crime.
6. Making it a felony to electronically damage ten or more computers no matter the value of the damage caused.
7. Making it a crime to threaten to steal or release information from an individual's computer. (Prior law only permitted the prosecution of those who seek to extort companies or government agencies by explicitly threatening to shut down or damage a computer.)
It is intended that the new law will allow federal prosecutors to be much more aggressive in prosecuting identity theft criminals. Elimination of both the $5,000 damage requirement and the interstate jurisdictional requirement should make it easier for prosecutors to bring charges. But will it really help? The federal government has tried to keep up with identity theft for years with few results. If the feds are truly interested in stamping out the pandemic, it is with the enforcement of the laws, and not just new laws, that will turn the tide. Still, there are encouraging signs that a wide ranging effort is being made. The IRS is helping out by allowing in this next year all but the last four digits of taxpayer ID numbers to be blocked out on 1099's, W-2s, and other informational returns. There is privacy in that move.