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Data breaches prompt new bill to limit Employment Security Department’s SSN disclosure

Recent government data breaches have prompted a new bill in the Legislature aimed at protecting people’s personal information.

House Bill 1455 states that if it is not required by federal or state law, the Employment Security Department (ESD) would need to stop disclosing full social security numbers in written communication with non-governmental third parties. This would have to begin by July 2023.

Non-governmental third parties “excludes subdivisions, agencies, and instrumentalities of government,” according to the bill’s documents.

“Hundreds of thousands of Washington consumers — many of our constituents and those we serve, and even our families — have had their Washington data breached,” said bill sponsor Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-Goldendale).

New data breach exposes personal info of 1.6 million people who applied for unemployment

In place of social security numbers, the ESD would need to use other pieces of personally identifiable information.

Exceptions would be made for financial transactions and any messages using secure or encrypted methods to hide the sensitive information.

Mosbrucker said the bill is critical for stopping future data breaches.

“We can’t wait because we’ve seen, in our own state, as you know, just incredible amounts of money and data out there, and it’s devastating to those who need to have that information protected,” Mosbrucker said.

The bill passed out of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee unanimously.

Earlier this month, the Washington State Auditor’s Office reported that a December data breach of a third-party service provider could have exposed the personal information of 1.6 million Washingtonians who filed for unemployment. The breach happened while the office was auditing Employment Security; the Auditor’s Office noted that the ESD was not in any way at fault.

The Employment Security Department is giving its thumbs-up to the bill.

“ESD supports the intent of this bill and working with the sponsor to make sure that this bill is operable without causing system delays in servicing our claimants,” the department declared.

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