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FTC pushing for stiffer penalties for ID theft

The US Federal Trade Commission has thrown its support behind a US Senate bill that would increase the penalties for identity theft crimes.

The bill would add jail time for those who have committed other crimes and are in the possession of a false identity, and it would not allow these extra penalties to be served concurrently.

What the bill does is create a new crime called "aggravated identity theft" that adds at least a two-year jail term to anyone who used a stolen identity to commit bank fraud, pension fraud, social security fraud, financial crimes, obtaining a false firearms licence and impersonating a US citizen. The bill would add at least five years to the sentence of anyone who uses a fake identity in a crime related to terrorism.

However, at least one privacy group said the bill squanders focus and does little to prevent identity theft in the future.

"Enacting penalties isn't going to prevent the crime," said Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "There are stiff penalties for all sorts of crimes that still occur."

Hoofnagle said he would prefer that Congress pass legislation restricting the use of social security numbers for identification. He noted that California and Georgia have already passed laws mandating that business and government handle social security numbers with greater care.

Most identity theft comes from "dumpster diving", Hoofnagle said, where criminals rummage through rubbish looking for social security numbers. If Congress would prevent businesses from printing social security numbers on invoices and require companies to shred documents instead of just throwing them away, a big part of the problem would be solved, Hoofnagle said.

The Senate bill does not cover either of those measures.

The bill, filed in May, is now before the Technology, Terrorism and Government subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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