Q&A: U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin On Cyberthreats, Online Privacy Tips, and Identity Theft Risks

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Private-i recently chatted with Congressman Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since winning office in 2000.

During the last decade he has taken on several leadership roles, including work as the co-founder of the bipartisan House Cybersecurity Caucus. An original co-sponsor to the PrECISE Act, he has a lot to say about our country’s most urgent online security priorities.

After all, it’s a lack of awareness about cyber-crime and hacking attacks that  poses the most potential harm to our country’s infrastructure.

Indeed, Congressman Langevin notes that the PrECISE Act would create “a clearinghouse for information, easing communication about new threats from government to the private sector and establishing a system that allows business to make threats known to government and each other, while ensuring that citizens’ privacy remains a top concern.”

Read our full Q&A below to learn his thoughts on everything from how consumers can protect their identities online to keeping children safeguarded from identity theft from cyber-thieves.

Q: What sort of work is being done to protect citizens against identity theft, credit fraud, data breaches, and similar risks — specifically when using a wireless hotspot, since anyone can intercept those signals and wreak havoc with someone’s identity?

A: Everyone needs to take individual responsibility for protecting themselves online through the passwords they use, the software they download and the information they share. “Wireless hotspots” certainly pose known risks. There is no way to prevent every attempted hack, but we can all become familiar with FTC guidelines for deterring and responding to identity theft.

I am supportive of ensuring law enforcement has the tools to find and punish perpetrators and better protect our citizens. We have recently seen an important effort by the IRS and Justice Department to crack down on perpetrators, recognizing the increased risks of identity theft during tax season.

I have also posted on my website a number of tips for people to follow when filing their returns.

Further, the White House’s cybersecurity proposals include key provisions that we should adopt immediately. One recommendation would increase penalties for cyber criminals by applying Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws to crimes committed in cyberspace.

In addition, we need a federal standard for data breach notification so consumers are quickly made aware when their personal information has been compromised.

Q: How do you stay protected when using a laptop in the House of Representatives – or even at the airport, a hotel, a café, or anywhere with a wifi hotspot? Do you have any general online safety tips to recommend to our readers?

A: The House ensures that its devices and networks use premier security technology, but there are basic precautions that I adhere to and that everyone can follow. For example, choose complex passwords to be used for accessing email and personal information, use anti-virus software on your computer and other devices that access the Internet, and keep software, whether it is your web browser or anti-virus programs, up to date.

It is also important that we educate our children about safe social networking and other online practices to ensure they understand the limits of information that is appropriate to share over the Internet.

Q: Shifting gears to your phenomenal work protecting foster children, tell us a little more about why foster kids are disproportionately victimized when it comes to identity theft and what inspired you to help pass a federal foster youth identity-theft law in October 2011.

A: While identity theft is an increasing concern for all children, foster youth very seldom have adults to assist them when they need help.

In addition, current practices put these youth at further risk since their personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth certificates, passes through many hands and can fall easily into the wrong ones.

As I saw firsthand when my parents welcomed foster youth into our home over many years, they already face tremendous obstacles without the increased threat of having their identity taken and their credit ruined, which prevents them from finding a place to live, accessing credit on their own, or obtaining other basic needs.

The measure we passed into law represents an important step toward rectifying a troubling issue, but we have a lot more to do to ensure our foster youth succeed as adults.

I am continuing to push for the other measures included in my Foster Youth Financial Security Act, which would end the use of Social Security numbers as an identifier for foster children.

It would also empower them to make responsible financial decisions as adults by ensuring they receive a government issued identification card, information about housing and educational opportunities and financial literacy classes. Moreover, the bill establishes an individual development account for foster youth to provide initial funds for job-related expenses or housing when they leave state care.

Q: The bill requires social service agencies to run a credit check on foster kids prior to their 18th birthday. Can the states actually clear a foster child’s credit history before he or she is released from state custody? Does the state run a credit check and leave it up to the kids to deal with, or do state agencies actually clear the credit history somehow?

A: If the state finds inaccuracies when they run the credit check, they must work with the victims to clear those inaccuracies. We have seen organizations in Southern California take the lead on this and demonstrate it can be done effectively at minimal cost.

Q: How is this policy working now that the bill has been signed – will each state interpret the law differently or is there one streamlined process to implement policies and track results?

A: Each state agency is set up differently and has the flexibility to set up a system that works best for them.

I was encouraged to hear from the Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families that they were already working toward a process for implementing the law even before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines.

Q: Do you have available information on just how many foster children have been affected by identity theft?

A: News reports have said up to half of foster children are impacted in particular areas, while other experts who have worked on the issue estimate that as many as 30% of foster children may be victims.

We know the problem has been recognized by many at the state level, with 10 states and Washington, DC, proposing laws or issuing guidance to deal with the issue.

Q: Finally, and shifting gears one last time, what’s your opinion on SOPA in just three adjectives?

A: Overreaching, threatening, problematic.

 

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.

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