ANNAPOLIS – Two new Maryland bills are targeting computer crimes — the growing problem of identity theft and hacking into government and public utility computers.
The bills are the work of Delegate Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, an attorney, but at Wednesday’s news conference to introduce the legislation she had plenty of support from others, including Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.
Although interruptions to computer systems have been brief and have not caused extensive damage, Lee said, “computer experts are justifiably worried that the states’ computers systems are vulnerable to cyber-terrorism.”
Maryland ranks 11th nationally in identity theft victims per 100,000 people, while the District of Columbia is ranked 12th, according to information from Ivey’s office.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals a name, Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number or other personal identifying information and uses the information for illegal purchases or other frauds.
A sense of urgency exists in trying to curb identity theft, Lee said, quoting FTC statistics showing the problem is increasing nationally.
The first of Lee’s bills calls for a task force, made up of three Maryland senators, three delegates, the state Attorney General and the State Police superintendent, to study the issue. The panel would have a deadline of Dec. 31, 2005.
Gansler said the Internet has made identity theft easier and much more common.
The particular problem of identity theft among the elderly captured Lee’s attention, she said.
People who live on fixed incomes and suffer identity thefts, she said, can see their lives ruined and they have little wherewithal to combat the fraud.
“The criminals are running up huge charges on people’s credit card bills,” said Lee. “At the same time, law enforcement will assume that you are the criminal.”
Hackers of computers owned by the Maryland State Government or used by public utilities would face a $1,000 fine and up to three years in prison under Lee’s second bill.
If the computer break-in nets more than $10,000, the perpetrator can be found guilty of a felony, with a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
The bill is designed to deter hackers who could crash thousands of computers, shut down courts or perform other mayhem, Lee said.
“This bill would preserve the security and sanctity of government,” said Gansler. “Homeland security and the protection of our national security interests are a top priority for Marylanders.”