NAFCU letters to House and Senate urging action on Federal Data Security and Breach Notifications

(January 22, 2014)

The Honorable John Boehner                         The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker                                                           Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives                       U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515                                 Washington, D.C. 20515


Re:  Ongoing Data Security Breaches at U.S. Retailers Warrant Strong Federal Data Security and Breach Notification Standards  

Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi:

As the number of data breaches at U.S. retailers continues to climb, so does the emotional toll and financial burden on tens of millions of consumers across the country. The breadth and scope of the massive Target Corporation breach exemplifies the need for Congressional action. On behalf of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU), the only trade association exclusively representing our nation’s federal credit unions, I write today to continue to urge you and your colleagues to act on federal data security and breach notification standards. As noted by a retailer trade group in a letter earlier this week, there is agreement among many industry stakeholders that federal breach notification laws are desperately needed to keep consumers safe.

As you know from previous correspondence, NAFCU believes it has never been more critical for Congress to hold hearings and craft legislation that will better protect consumers and ensure all entities handling their sensitive financial and personal information are held to the same high standards that financial institutions already are.

While large breaches, like the massive Target Corporation breach, draw national attention and make the nightly news, the reality is that data breaches are happening all the time, often on a smaller scale. An April 2013 survey of NAFCU-member credit unions found that credit unions were notified dozens of times in 2012 of possible breaches of their members’ financial information.That same survey found that nearly 80% of the time those notifications led to the credit union issuing a new plastic card to the member because of the security breach, at an average cost of more than $5.00 per card.

As we first wrote to you last February as part of NAFCU’s five-point plan on regulatory relief, these incidents must be addressed by lawmakers. Every time consumers choose to use plastic cards for payments at a register or make online payments from their accounts, they unwittingly put themselves at risk. Many are not aware that their financial and personal identities could be stolen or that fraudulent charges could appear on their accounts, in turn damaging their credit scores and reputations. Consumers trust that entities collecting this type of information will, at the very least, make a minimal effort to protect them from such risks. Unfortunately, this is not always true.

Financial institutions, including credit unions, have been subject to standards on data security since the passage of Gramm-Leach-Bliley. However, retailers and many other entities that handle sensitive personal financial data are not subject to these same standards, and they become victims of data breaches and data theft all too often. While these entities still get paid, financial institutions bear a significant burden as the issuers of payment cards used by millions of consumers. Credit unions suffer steep losses in re-establishing member safety after a data breach occurs. They are often forced to charge off fraud-related losses, many of which stem from a negligent entity’s failure to protect sensitive financial and personal information or the illegal maintenance of such information in their systems. Moreover, as many cases of identity theft have been attributed to data breaches, and as identity theft continues to rise, any entity that stores financial or personally identifiable information should be held to minimum standards for protecting such data.

While some argue for financial institutions to expedite a switch to a “chip and pin” card, the reality is that it is no panacea for data security and preventing merchant data breaches. Many financial institutions that issue “chip and pin” cards had those cards stolen in the Target data breach as the retailer only accepted magnetic stripe technology at the point of sale where the breach occurred.  Furthermore, “chip and pin” cards can be compromised and used in online purchase fraud, as the technology is designed to hinder card duplication and card information can still be compromised. This fact highlights the need for greater national data security standards as the way to truly help protect consumer financial information.

Again, recent breaches are just the latest in a string of large-scale data breaches impacting millions of American consumers.The aftermath of these and previous breaches demonstrate what we have been communicating to Congress all along: credit unions and other financial institutions – not retailers and other entities – are out in front protecting consumers, picking up the pieces after a data breach occurs. It is the credit union or other financial institution that must notify its account holders, issue new cards, replenish stolen funds, change account numbers and accommodate increased customer service demands that inevitably follow a major data breach. Unfortunately, too often the negligent entity that caused these expenses by failing to protect consumer data loses nothing and is often undisclosed to the consumer.

NAFCU once again reiterates its call on Congress to make the issue of data security a priority in 2014 by convening hearings on the data protection standards of merchants and what can be done to strengthen them and how retailers can better assist financial institutions when breaches occur.

Furthermore, we recommend Congress take action to enact provisions to protect consumers from breaches that compromise their financial and personally identifiable information. Data security is a common-sense bipartisan issue that must be addressed.

With that in mind, NAFCU specifically recommends that Congress make it a priority to craft legislation and act on the following issues related to data security:

  • Payment of Breach Costs by Breached Entities: NAFCU asks that credit union expenditures for breaches      resulting from card use be reduced. A reasonable and equitable way of      addressing this concern would be to require entities to be accountable for      costs of data breaches that result on their end, especially when their own      negligence is to blame.
  • National Standards for Safekeeping Information: It is critical that sensitive personal information be      safeguarded at all stages of transmission. Under Gramm-Leach-Bliley,      credit unions and other financial institutions are required to meet      certain criteria for safekeeping consumers’ personal information.      Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive regulatory structure akin to      Gramm-Leach-Bliley that covers retailers, merchants and others who collect      and hold sensitive information.  NAFCU strongly supports the passage      of legislation requiring any entity responsible for the storage of      consumer data to meet standards similar to those imposed on financial      institutions under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
  • Data Security Policy Disclosure: Many consumers are unaware of the risks they are      exposed to when they provide their personal information. NAFCU believes      this problem can be alleviated by simply requiring merchants to post their      data security policies at the point of sale if they take sensitive      financial data. Such a disclosure requirement would come at little or no      cost to the merchant but would provide an important benefit to the public      at large.
  • Notification of the Account Servicer: The account servicer or owner is in the unique position      of being able to monitor for suspicious activity and prevent fraudulent      transactions before they occur. NAFCU believes that it would make sense to      include entities such as financial institutions on the list of those to be      informed of any compromised personally identifiable information when      associated accounts are involved.
  • Disclosure of Breached Entity: NAFCU believes that consumers should have the right to      know which business entities have been breached. We urge Congress to      mandate the disclosure of identities of companies and merchants whose data      systems have been violated so consumers are aware of the ones that place      their personal information at risk.
  • Enforcement of Prohibition on Data Retention: NAFCU believes it is imperative to address the      violation of existing agreements and law by merchants and retailers who      retain payment card information electronically. Many entities do not      respect this prohibition and store sensitive personal data in their systems,      which can be breached easily in many cases.
  • Burden of Proof in Data Breach Cases: In line with the responsibility for making consumers      whole after they are harmed by a data breach, NAFCU believes that the      evidentiary burden of proving a lack of fault should rest with the      merchant or retailer who incurred the breach. These parties should have      the duty to demonstrate that they took all necessary precautions to guard      consumers’ personal information but sustained a violation nonetheless. The      law is currently vague on this issue, and NAFCU asks that this burden of      proof be clarified in statute.

On behalf of our nation’s credit unions and their 97 million members we thank you for your attention to this important matter. If my staff or I can be of assistance to you, or if you have any questions regarding this issue, please feel free to contact myself, or NAFCU’s Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Brad Thaler, at (703) 842-2204.


B. Dan Berger

President and CEO

cc:           Members of the United States House of Representatives

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