Texas Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) has been on a 3-year crusade to strip asbestos exposure victims of their rights to privacy and compensation. The legislator introduced an entirely Republican-backed bill into congress called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2015 earlier in the year and if the bill is passed, it will force asbestos victims to submit sensitive personal information in order to file a claim. The bill will also force asbestos trust funds, which are already overworked and underfunded, to file expensive quarterly reports, which will have the effect of slowing those trusts down and making it more difficult for victims to get the money they need for medical bills.
Bill Creates Cyber Security Threat for Victims
Five asbestos victim advocacy groups – including the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund as well as the Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D) – sent a well-researched and thoughtful letter to the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, urging its members to oppose the FACT Act. The Cybersecurity Caucus is a legislative committee that develops strategies for defending U.S. citizens from hackers and cyber-attacks.
EWG and fellow advocacy groups didn’t cast insults in their letter, but instead offered a professional analysis from a legal expert of the ways in which the FACT Act will put asbestos exposure victims at risk of identity theft. Blake Farenthold, who is both a caucus member and the legislator who introduced the FACT Act into congress in 2015, simply dismissed the letter as a “B.S. move by trial lawyers” without addressing any of the concerns held by asbestos victims and their advocacy groups.
Blake Farenthold’s unthoughtful response to the letter shows complete disregard for the asbestos victims he’s supposedly trying to support. What Farenthold neglects to mention in his public statements, is that the FACT Act is entirely supported by executives who run the asbestos-product manufacturing corporations that made people sick in the first place. Though Farenthold claims he has the best interest of workers and victims in mind, the truth is that absolutely no victim advocacy group, veteran’s association, or worker’s advocacy group supports the FACT Act. Not one.
Looming Dangers of the FACT Act
Lawmakers must make difficult decisions all the time and most citizens understand that; however, the FACT Act is different because it deliberately depends on asbestos victims dying from cancer before they can collect compensation. One prominent attorney, Elihu Inselbuch, explained in written comments delivered at a congressional hearing that the FACT Act "…would slow down or stop the process by which the trusts review and pay claims, such that many victims would die before receiving compensation...." This strategy is common knowledge and the president of another advocacy group, Alliance for Justice (AFJ), released a public statement saying:
“[Republicans] should call [the FACT Act] what it is: the ‘delay till they die’ act. The real intent of this bill is to favor corporate interests and delay justice for asbestos victims until even more of them die.”
The recent letter sent by EWG and 4 other advocacy groups was intended to point out that "several members of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus are currently supporting legislation that would place tens of thousands of Americans at increased risk of identity theft, contrary to the mission of the caucus." EWG even went out of its way to consult with an expert attorney, Glenn Kopp, who found "significant problems in the legislation that would leave sick and dying asbestos victims at risk of identity theft and other online and offline scams."
Glenn Kopp's analysis pointed out that "based on the sparse limitations" proposed by the FACT Act, victims would potentially have the following available to the entire public:
- Their full legal names
- Addresses, both past and present
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Last 4 digits of their Social Security numbers
- Employer information
- Asbestos exposure histories
- Claim amounts at risk
What’s incredibly disturbing about all of this, is that these things, above, are exactly the pieces of information a cyber-attacker would need to target and steal money.
Farenthold and FACT Act Supporters Have No Evidence & No Response
Despite the EWG's carefully supported research and well-crafted comments, Farenthold responded to the letter with a lot of anger, but with no specific details. He told Politico, "the claim that this bill will threaten victims' privacy is absolutely false. The FACT Act forbids any disclosure of confidential medical records" and that federal bankruptcy courts "zealously guard asbestos victims' personal information." He offered no supporting evidence for how information would be protected.
Based on his short, crude comments, it seems that Representative Blake Farenthold misunderstands the issue at hand. Advocacy groups aren't worried that the government will deliberately publish victims' medical records online, they are worried that by forcing victims to disclose their most critical personal information, the government will make asbestos victims more vulnerable to con artists, cyber-attackers, and their scams.
Not only is the FACT Act a desperate attempt to wrench money away from mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease victims – most of whom got sick while working already dangerous-yet-essential jobs like firefighting and construction – but it will also expose victims and their families to hackers. Republican legislators have been trying to pass bills like the FACT Act for years now and in all of that time, not a single politician or CEO has been able to provide significant evidence that the bill is necessary. That’s because it isn’t – the FACT Act is designed to keep money in corporate pockets, not for helping working-class families across