BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted last Thursday to pass a bill designed to protect the personal information of consumers in the case of data breaches, like the one seen at Equifax, and provide free credit freezes for all consumers.
The bill, S.2455, An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches, was sponsored by State Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), senate chair of the consumer protection committee, and crafted in collaboration with Representative Jennifer Benson (the House sponsor of the bill), Attorney General Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), and AARP Massachusetts.
The bill helps all consumers protect their sensitive information before, during, and after a security breach in several ways: providing for free credit freezes for all consumers and creating an online “one stop shop” portal so that consumers can freeze & unfreeze their credit at all 3 main bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) in one place; providing 5 years of free credit monitoring for consumers whose information was part of a credit reporting agency data breach, and empowering consumers to know when and why their consumer reports are being pulled by requiring that any company attempting to pull a consumer’s report must first obtain consent.
“We all have been affected by the Equifax breach and it feels like a massive betrayal. Millions of Americans don’t know who might now have access to their personal information and what they might do with it. Equifax must accept responsibility and compensate consumers for its lack of security, and all credit reporting agencies and companies must take swift action to prevent future breaches,” said bill sponsor and Senate Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Barbara L’Italien. “Today we took the next step toward action to fix this situation. I’m so proud of our collaboration on a bill that sends out a clear message that Massachusetts is serious when it comes to protecting consumers, especially seniors, low-income residents, and other vulnerable populations who are hit the hardest by situations like these.”
“We are living in the new reality that massive data breaches happen even to companies like Equifax that are supposed to protect consumers’ private financial information,” said Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “Adding insult to injury was the failure of Equifax to notify their customers of the breach in a timely fashion, which left millions open to possible identity theft. Under this legislation passed by the Senate, companies will need to respond quickly to let their customers know if a breach occurs and all consumers in Massachusetts will have stronger tools to protect their private financial information after any breach occurs.”
The legislation allows increased oversight from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which recently filed a lawsuit against Equifax. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation will create a process requiring companies to certify that they maintain a consumer information security program as required by existing Massachusetts law.
“Equifax allowed the theft of our personal financial information, and then hid the breach from the public,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill would require companies like Equifax to pay for credit monitoring and makes it much easier for people to protect themselves from identify theft. I’m proud to partner with Sen. L’Italien and Rep. Benson to get this bill passed.”
“Credit reporting agencies should be working for the American consumer. But recent data breaches and security leaks have demonstrated a repeated failure in due diligence,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “This bill gives individuals more control over their personal data, and will provide essential consumer protections for Massachusetts residents. This legislation will serve as a model for other states, and I commend Senator L’Italien for her leadership on this issue.”
“Consumers deserve to have the peace of mind that their data will not be compromised,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill makes it easier for consumers to protect their own personal information and offers resources in the case of future data breaches, while also holding consumer reporting agencies responsible for credit security.”
“I'm proud to have worked with Chairman Chan and all of the House cosponsors to pass a credit freeze bill in the House last February,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “I filed this legislation with Senator L’Italien, and then we worked together with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen it following the Equifax breach. Now that the Senate has passed their bill, I look forward to the conference committee producing a strong compromise bill that will protect consumers of credit in Massachusetts.”
Representative Benson’s similar legislation has already passed in the House.