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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Ohio Senate backs plan to reduce ID theft risks

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

The bill came from a state government still dealing with the theft of a computer tape storing data on more than 1 million people

COLUMBUS - Consumers could have credit-reporting agencies freeze access to their credit information under a bill unanimously approved yesterday by the Ohio Senate.

The identity-theft prevention measure also further restricts access to Social Security numbers on public records posted on the Internet and allows police officers, prosecutors, prison workers, and some other public employees to ask county offices handling property records to substitute their initials for their full names on compiled lists made available to the public online or in their offices.

The bill came from a state government still dealing with the fallout of the theft of a computer tape storing sensitive information on more than a million Ohioans and businesses.

Identity theft became an issue in last year's elections after it was revealed that then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's office had posted public loan documents on the Internet without removing Social Security numbers.

About 7,000 Ohioans were identity-theft victims last year.

The credit-freeze concept had been around for a while in the General Assembly, but it had largely stalled until the computer data tape was stolen from a state intern's car in June.

That theft cost taxpayers about $3 million in investigative costs and identity-theft protection for state employees, taxpayers, and others whose personal information was potentially compromised.

Sen John Boccieri (D., New Middletown) noted that months ago the credit industry resisted the bill, arguing that technology had not advanced enough to make the bill feasible.

"We can take our credit card anywhere around the world, put it in a machine, and access money,'' he said. "Certainly, that technology is there.''

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond), goes to the House.

It allows credit-reporting firms to charge a consumer a $5 fee for the credit freeze, but the service would have to be free to victims of identity theft.

The Ohio Newspaper Association opposed the language dealing with the initials and property records, seeing it as further erosion of access to public information.

"The way this issue was addressed in Senate Bill 6 reconfirms that there is a special group of public employees who get special exceptions,'' said Frank Deaner, the association's executive director. "The second point of law is not only is certain information protected in the employee's own files, but it is protected in the offices of other government agencies. We are setting dangerous precedent.''

The full name of the police officer or public employee would still appear on the deed and official property records, but it would require a journalist or someone else to take the extra step of having those public files pulled for review.

"A bad person can still go in and look [on the public list] for initials,'' Mr. Deaner said. "That criminal can still do what a criminal does. He can still stalk a cop. This isn't necessarily going to stop that.''

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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