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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 15, 2004

Remarks by the President at Signing of Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act
Roosevelt Room

10:52 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. Welcome to the White House. Thanks for coming. (Laughter.) Welcome to the White House. (Laughter.)

We're taking an important step today to combat the problem of identity theft, one of the fastest growing financial crimes in our nation. Last year alone, nearly 10 million Americans had their identities stolen by criminals who rob them and the nation's businesses of nearly $50 billion through fraudulent transactions. The bill I'm about to sign sends a clear message that a person who violates another's financial privacy will be punished.

The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act also prescribes prison sentences for those who use identity theft to commit other crimes, including terrorism. It reflects our government's resolve to answer serious offenses with serious penalties.

I appreciate the members of my administration who worked on this important piece of legislation, particularly Cabinet members John Snow and John Ashcroft. I appreciate the members of the Congress who worked hard on this legislation: Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Jon Kyl, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and members of the House, Chairman, Senator Jim Sensenbrenner, and John Carter from the great state of Texas. I want to thank the other members of Congress who are here, members of both political parties. Thank you for coming. I thank those who are on their staffs who have worked hard.

The crime of identity theft undermines the basic trust on which our economy depends. When a person takes out an insurance policy, or makes an online purchase, or opens a savings account, he or she must have confidence that personal financial information will be protected and treated with care. Identity theft harms not only its direct victims, but also many businesses and customers whose confidence is shaken. Like other forms of stealing, identity theft leaves the victim poor and feeling terribly violated.

But the losses are not measured only in dollars. An identity theft -- thief can steal the victim's financial reputation. Running up bills on credit card accounts that the victim never knew existed, the criminal can quickly damage a person's lifelong efforts to build and maintain a good credit rating. Repairing the damage can take months or years.

Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from these crimes and the grief and hassle they cause. It's a solemn responsibility of our government. I want to thank the members of Congress for recognizing that responsibility.

This good law is part of a broader effort we've waged in recent years. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, and Secret Service are working with local and state officials to crack down on the criminal networks that are responsible for much of the identity theft that occurs in this nation. The Federal Trade Commission is training local law enforcement in the detection of identity theft. The Commission has set up the ID Theft Data Clearinghouse, which keeps track of complaints across the country, and provides those records to prosecutors seeking to take down organized rings.

Last December, I signed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which established a national system of fraud detection so that identity thieves can be stopped before they run up tens of thousands of dollars in illegal purchases. Thanks to this law, victims can make one phone call to alert all three major credit rating agencies to report the crime and to protect their credit ratings.

The law I sign today will dramatically strengthen the fight against identity theft and fraud. Prosecutors across the country report that sentences for these crimes do not reflect the damage done to the victim. Too often, those convicted have been sentenced to little or no time in prison. This changes today. This new law establishes in the federal criminal court the offense of aggravated identity theft. And someone convicted of that crime can expect to go to jail for stealing a person's good name. These punishments will come on top of any punishment for crimes that proceed from identity theft. For example, when someone is convicted of mail fraud in a case involving stolen personal information, judges will now impose two sentences, one for mail fraud, and one for aggravated identity theft. Those convicted of aggravated identity theft must serve an additional mandatory two-year prison term. Someone convicted of aggravated identity theft, such as using a false passport in connection with a terrorism case, would receive an additional prison sentence of five years. In addition, judges will not be allowed to let those convicted of aggravated identity theft serve their sentence on probation.

This law also raises the standard of conduct for people who have access to personal records through their work at banks, government agencies, insurance companies, and other storehouses of financial data. The law directs the United States Sentencing Commission to make sure those convicted of abusing and stealing from their customers serve a sentence equal to their crimes.

What I'm telling you is this is a good law. And I appreciate you working hard to see to it that it made it to my desk. Because of this act of Congress I sign today, the guilty will be certain to be punished. That's good for our consumers, it's good for our economy, and it's good for the cause of justice.

Welcome to the White House. (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.)

END 10:59 A.M. EDT

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