After the massive Equifax data breach, don’t expect the Republican-controlled Congress to come to the aid of some 143 million consumers who are now exposed to identity theft.
To get a sense of Republican priorities, consider this: On the same day Equifax announced the breach, Congress held a hearing on a bill that would roll back regulations on the nation’s credit bureaus. The bill would cap damage awards in class action suits at $500,000, even if millions of people were in the class. Punitive damages would be eliminated entirely.
Two Congressional panels will hold hearings on the breach, as they have on past losses of consumers’ financial information and Social Security numbers, and likely Congress will again fail to take action to improve credit security or credit bureau accountability.
Congressional Republicans would much rather focus on how to eliminate that thorn in the financial sector’s side – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even as the agency has collected billions of dollars in consumer refunds and debt relief. Republican lawmakers won’t do much to regulate credit bureaus, even if one’s sloppiness has put nearly half of America’s population at risk of identity theft and the Kafkaesque exercise of trying to reclaim their losses and restore their credit.
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Americans are being bedeviled by identity theft and errors on their credit reports. Congress should take stronger action on this issue. Corporations that fail to protect sensitive consumer information should pay a bigger penalty than a few days of bad publicity. Penalties for credit bureaus that lose millions of files on consumers should be especially strong.
Stay tuned for the congressional hearings, but don’t expect to hear much.