By Nicole D. Prysby, J.D.
Members of Congress reacted to indictments against Chinese military personnel in the Equifax data breach, arguing for legislation to hold credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches and to improve cybersecurity.
Members of Congress issued statements reacting to the recently announced charges against four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, alleged to have committed computer fraud, economic espionage, and wire fraud by stealing millions of Americans’ sensitive personal information from Equifax. The reactions included statements that regardless of the indictments, Congress should pass legislation to hold large credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches involving sensitive consumer data. Other congressmen argued that China’s use of military resources to harm America must not go unchecked and that cybersecurity must be improved. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group also issued a statement in reaction to the indictments, in support of legislation that would create significant financial consequences for the loss of confidential data.
Charges brought. As previously reported (see Banking and Finance Law Daily, Feb. 10, 2020), the U.S. government charged four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with computer fraud, economic espionage, and wire fraud for allegedly stealing millions of Americans’ sensitive personal information and certain trade secrets of the credit reporting agency Equifax. The hack compromised the personal information of more than 143 million Americans. The U.S. criminal indictment sets forth nine counts against the PLA members, including: computer fraud conspiracy; computer fraud and abuse—intentional damage, computer fraud, and abuse—unauthorized access; conspiracy to commit economic espionage; economic espionage; conspiracy to commit wire fraud; and three counts concerning wire fraud.
Reactions. A number of members of Congress released statements on the indictment. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, stated that the indictment does not detract from the deficiencies in Equifax’s systems. He cited his previously introduced legislation that would hold large credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches involving sensitive consumer data. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), concurred with the need to create strong privacy legislation and stated that "[p]assing strong privacy legislation like my Mind Your Own Business Act is essential for our national security and our individual safety."
Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) focused his statement specifically on the Chinese threat, arguing that the Chinese Communist Party "will leave no stone unturned in its effort to steal and exploit American data." Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) condemned the hack as "a coordinated attempt by a foreign adversary to compromise and amass our personal data." Representative Denver Riggleman (R-Va) tweeted his reaction to the indictment, and asserted that if the facts alleged are true, "China owes American consumers and Equifax considerable compensation. The U.S. should not take this attack sitting down." House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis) released a statement that China’s use of military resources to harm America must not go unchecked, and that Congress must work harder to improve cybersecurity.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group statement emphasized that the indictment should not absolve Equifax of its failure to protect consumers’ confidential information, and that Congress should create significant financial consequences for the loss of confidential data.
Companies: Equifax; U.S. Public Interest Research Group
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