Visa summit will counter data breach hype

Data theft and identity fraud on the cards for Visa Summit

Credit-card payments giant Visa is hoping to shed new light on problems like consumer data theft and identity fraud through a conference that will bring together leaders from the business, government, and technology communities to discuss security for the electronic payments industry.

Hosted in partnership with the publishing arm of Harvard Business School, the day-long set of briefings is being held March 8 in Washington under the banner "Maintaining Trust in Payments Summit."

In a series of panels, controversial topics like the amount of time companies should be allowed to wait before disclosing data breaches to card issuers and consumers will be up for debate, as will the role of the government in providing protection for consumers and industry.

The list of scheduled speakers for the event includes Visa CEO John Philip Coghlan, business leaders like eBay CEO Meg Whitman, executives from retailer Nordstrom and Wells Fargo Bank, and a representative from ChoicePoint, the consumer data collection firm that was involved in one the most notorious electronic records mishaps ever reported. Public sector heavyweights will also take part, including Homeland Security cyber-czar Greg Garcia.

Visa controls the world's largest payment system. Like other payment companies, Visa finds itself at the centre of a rapidly-changing fraud landscape driven by the spread of Internet usage and malicious software.

"The reality is that payment security is a complex issue, and the only way to reach a solution is to have an open and honest dialogue," said Rosetta Jones, vice president of corporate relations for Visa USA. "The goal for us was to bring together leaders from the technology, retail, law enforcement, and financial industries to raise the consciousness of data security among all the partners involved with payment systems."

The emphasis will be on shared responsibility among the many players involved in combating the exposure of sensitive consumer records and related fraud, Jones said.

Developers of payment systems applications used in point-of-sales devices will also participate in this year's summit in the name of expanding the debate. Visa considers application vendors crucial pieces of the payment security puzzle.

Robert C. Cresanti, the chief privacy officer and undersecretary of Commerce for Technology, said that it's not useful to get caught up in the blame game or focus too much on single any aspect of improving security for records and payment systems.

Cresanti said that the government's first objective in trying to improve the situation must be to "clean up its own house" in terms of reviewing the manners in which it gathers, stores, and protects data.

There also needs to be a better understanding in both the private and public sectors of how the exposure of electronic records has truly affected the growth of identity fraud, according to the expert.

"We're in an environment where these issues are forcing companies to make decisions between profits and losses every day, we see punishment in stock prices for those who have had incidents, and loss of consumer trust," Cresanti said. "We need to examine how we can put a fine edge on things to ensure that people are careful with the information they collect and hold while creating better public awareness of what is actually going on."

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