Computer Break-Ins: Your Right to Know

Tuesday, 12 November 2002, 2:02 PM EST

In April, 2002, hackers broke into the payroll database for the state of California. For more than a month, cybercriminals rooted around in the personal information of 265,000 Golden State employees, ranging from Governor Gray Davis to maintenance workers and clerks.

Worse, the California Controller's Office, which ran the database, failed to notify state employees for more than two weeks after the breach was discovered. Although officials with the Controller's office insisted the break-in probably hadn't resulted in any significant harm, the incident enraged Golden State pols and employees, whose Social Security numbers, bank account information, and home addresses were fair game for the hackers.

This lapse sparked what may mark a dramatic shift in legal policy toward cybersecurity. Over strenuous objections from the business lobby, on Sept. 26 California enacted a sweeping measure that mandates public disclosure of computer-security breaches in which confidential information may have been compromised. The law covers not just state agencies but private enterprises doing business in California. Come July 1, 2003, those who fail to disclose that a breach has occurred could be liable for civil damages or face class actions.

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