GAO reviews public and private sector data breaches

Breaches of personal information in both the public and private sectors are frequent, but the extent to which they have or will result in identity theft is still unknown, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The report examined data breaches within both federal and private organizations and media reports on the compromising of sensitive personal information. They found that breaches have been widespread and vary in size and threat, occurring on the federal, state and local levels, and across a range of institutions.

The report was particularly concerned with the link between data breaches and identity theft -- a link difficult to determine because of the hazy nature of most ID thefts. GAO discussed options for notifying consumers about compromised data, saying that notification when the risk for identity theft is greater could provide incentives for both consumers and data collectors to take steps toward prevention.

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