(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today joined with Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and other colleagues to announce legislation that establishes safeguards to prevent against data theft. The legislation is in response to recent security lapses, the most prominent of which occurred at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and included the private information of 26.5 million veterans. Senator Murray called for the VA to come clean with the full story of the breach, and to provide support to veterans who are unsure of how to react.
"We have 85-year-old veterans who don’t know the first thing about credit checks being told that their identity may be compromised," said Senator Murray. "They want to know how they can get reliable information concerning their personal credit, and what to do in the event that their identity is stolen. The VA needs to be there for them at every step of this process."
Senator Murray also discussed the legislation that Senator Akaka has introduced which she is co-sponsoring. The bill, entitled the "Data Theft Prevention Act of 2006", establishes penalties for the misuse of data that is stored on federal databases. The assembled Democratic Senators also released a letter to the Government Accountability Office, calling for a full and independent investigation into the security lapse at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Senator Murray's Full Remarks from the Press Conference Follow:
When Americans sign up to serve our country in the U.S. military, they put their trust in the federal government. Now that trust has been broken, and it has been broken repeatedly.
First, the VA compromised the private, personal data of tens of millions of veterans and active duty military. Then, they took far too long to report that the data was stolen, and then they compounded the problem, by not being honest with veterans about who was affected by the breach. We deserve answers as to why an agency that is supposed to serve the needs of our nation's veterans has failed them so miserably.
We need to know why it took so long for the VA to warn veterans. And we need to know why so many of the VA's answers have changed over time. This security breach happened on May 3rd. Two weeks later, Congress was told about it. Two weeks after that, we were told that perhaps 50,000 Navy personnel were affected. The next day, we were told that perhaps 80% of active duty military plus all guard and reserve members could be affected. We still need the full story.
We need the full story so that veterans, active duty soldiers, and their families can have the peace of mind they deserve. I have veterans calling my office worried that their privacy has been violated, and they are losing faith in the VA's response. We have the families of soldiers, who are already struggling with their family members away from home, now having to worry that they may be victims of identity theft or other crimes.
The VA needs to increase its outreach efforts so that veterans are aware of the support services available to them. We have 85-year-old veterans who don’t know the first thing about credit checks being told that their identity may be compromised. They don’t know what to do. They want to know how they can get reliable information concerning their personal credit and what to do in the event that their identity is stolen. Credit checks are not simple matters and many Americans have never before had to request a personal credit history. The VA needs to be there for them at every step of this process.
And we must ensure that the cost of helping our military personnel, their families and our veterans isn't paid for out of already scarce VA health care funding. These brave Americans don't deserve to be victimized through no fault of their own and then punished again by being denied access to services and benefits they have been promised.
If we have learned any lesson from these awful events it is that we cannot allow this to happen again. That is why I am joining today with my friend Senator Akaka, a true champion of America's veterans.
Like me, he is frustrated by the VA's response to the breach and is committed to taking the steps necessary to prevent employee data theft.
The legislation that he has introduced and which I am co-sponsoring aims to avoid reliving the events of this last month by establishing laws that prevent employees from knowingly compromising personal security information held in federal databases.
I thank Senator Akaka and the other co-sponsors of this bill for their commitment to veterans and personal data protection. We put our trust in our men and women in uniform when they volunteer to serve our country. They need to know that they can trust our government to protect and serve them as well.