Recently, a friend of mine received a letter from Bank of America informing her that “some credit card information on your Bank of America account may have been compromised at an undisclosed third-party location.”
The letter went on to state that BofA had reviewed her account and saw “no evidence that your account has been misused in any way. We will continue to monitor activity on your account, and if we detect suspicious transactions, we will notify you.” BofA also informed her that “we will close your existing account and issue you a new account number and credit card(s).”
Imagine if your doctor sent you a letter informing you that “you’ve contracted an undisclosed disease from an undisclosed third party. Take these pills and carry on as before. We’ll monitor your symptoms and notify you if you show signs of further infection.”
The underlying subtext here is that a) my friend’s information was probably compromised through a merchant that she has done business with; b) she does not have the right to know who that was; and therefore c) she must continue to do business as usual without the ability to change her behavior based on the fact that the merchant did not safeguard her information appropriately.
BofA referenced a web site where they talk about data compromise:
According to this site, “When a data compromise occurs Bank of America is notified by multiple sources, including VisaÂ®, MasterCardÂ®, American ExpressÂ® and law enforcement agencies when our accounts have been included in a data compromise… Unless the merchant announces the breach to the public, we are unable to provide the name of the merchant or where the data breach has occurred.”
In other words, the credit industry is facilitating willful ignorance in order to protect their fundamentally broken system. If you or I found out where exactly the breach happened, we might not be so inclined to give our credit-card numbers to the end merchant or payment processors involved. Customers are not provided with the information we need to make educated decisions about who we trust with our information.
Truth be told, the fundamental problem isn’t with the end merchants, anyway. The problem is that our financial infrastructure rests on the broken concept that a short string of numbers can be used to move money from one person’s account to another. This string of numbers has to be kept “secret,” but it also has to be given to dozens of people throughout the course of a day in order to conduct routine transactions.
Here’s my favorite section of BofA’s data compromise FAQ:
“Is it safe to use my new card?
“We are confident that this was an isolated incident and that the steps we have taken will ensure the continued security of your account. Please continue to use your new account as you normally would.”
Yes… an “isolated incident,” just like the other 285 million records that were compromised last year. Take these pills and carry on.
|PGP-signed text: 2010-01-24 (current)|