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Garbage Out, Cops In

Texas Attorney General throws the book at companies that don't properly throw it away

When Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed legal action against Radio Shack yesterday for illegally dumping documents containing personal information, it wasn't the first time he stuck his nose in someone else's garbage. In fact, he's done it three times in the last two weeks -- and he's not done yet.

Abbott and his team gained national attention yesterday when the Texas Attorney General's Office filed an action against a Radio Shack store in Portland, Texas -- near Corpus Christi -- for allegedly exposing thousands of customers' personal information in a bulk garbage dump behind the store. The documents contained Social Security numbers, credit card information, and addresses.

Radio Shack is accused of violating the 2005 Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, a Texas state law that requires the protection and proper destruction of clients' sensitive personal information. The company faces penalties of up to $50,000 for each violation.

But Radio Shack isn't the only company in hot water over garbage disposal. On March 14, Abbott took action against Jones Beauty College of Dallas for improperly discarding student financial aid forms. Just a day before that, he threw the book at On Track Modeling, a N.C.-based talent agency that abruptly shut down its Grand Prairie, Texas office and abandoned more than 60 boxes containing hundreds of confidential client records.

"Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States," said Abbott in a statement following the Radio Shack filing. "Texans expect their personal information to be protected. The Office of the Attorney General will take all necessary steps to ensure that consumers are protected from identity thieves."

Checking the trash may seem above and beyond the call of a police officer's duty, but as identity theft becomes more visible, law enforcement agencies are obliged to demonstrate their willingness to do something about it, observers say. Last Wednesday, U.S. marshals took some heat when they evicted a temporary staffing company from a D.C. office building and left boxes of personal files on the street.

If Abbott's prosecutions are successful, they could bring pressure on companies to be more diligent in how they store and dispose of personal information, even in branch offices or retail outlets. The Texas laws apply to any company that improperly dump personal data in the state, even if they are headquartered elsewhere, he asserts.

Several states, including R.I. and S.C., have enacted data protection laws similar to those in Texas.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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