Barr tells me that he believes that when Congress returns to Washington, it will probably move aggressively to introduce legislation designed to protect the public from identity theft.
Many of the companies involved in recent mishaps in which private information fell into the wrong hands "may think they have this thing all covered and under control," Barr says. "They don't."
Barr recognizes what many of his former colleagues in Washington and many of my former colleagues in state legislatures are starting to see for themselves. They now realize this kind of fraud or theft is a personal affront to people. It's potentially as devastating to them as a natural disaster, or a violent attack on our shores by terrorists or a foreign country. It hits Americans in the one spot that draws the fastest and strongest reaction from them -- their pocketbooks.
The average American has trouble understanding why someone else should be able to make a dollar selling their personal information. And they are starting to wonder why it's necessary for businesses and other private entities to require customers and others to submit information originally issued by the government. The prime example is, of course, Social Security numbers.
The genie has long since escaped the bottle, of course. This kind of information is already in the hands of private companies.
But the Bush White House could catapult the issue into the forefront by joining Congress and state legislatures in a push to end the practice of companies begging for or peddling our private information. The president has already invested immense political capital in advocating Social Security reform, and this new initiative could work in tandem with those efforts.
At minimum, our government leaders could team up to put real restrictions on information "sharing," even if it's too late to ban the practice altogether.